Medical marijuana reduces opioid dispensing in cancer patients, study finds

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Medical marijuana reduces opioid dispensing in cancer patients, study finds

There is a reduction in the use of medical marijuana in cancer patients.

In a paper published in the journal JAMA Oncology on December 1, medical marijuana was associated with a 5.5% to 19.2% reduction in the rate of opioid dispensing for 38,189 adult patients diagnosed with breast, colorectal or lung cancer and receiving cancer treatment. There were three cancer types chosen for the study because of the large number of new cases among those younger than 65.

The study said that medical marijuana could be used as a substitute for opioid therapies among adult patients receiving cancer treatment. Future studies need to elucidate the associations and implications for patient outcomes.

Opioids, which are highly addictive, are used to treat all types of pain, including cancer-related pain, and have been linked to increased self-administration and deadly overdoses.

More than 93,000 people died in the US in 2020 from a drug overdose, a record number that has increased by more than 30% from 2019 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The increase was caused by opioids and the lethal prevalence of fentanyl, according to officials.

The magnitude of the reduction of opioid dispensing in cancer patients was determined by the type of cancer and whether the patient received prescription opioids prior to their cancer diagnosis, Yuhua Bao, lead author of the paper and health economist at Weill Cornell Medicine, told Newsweek.

With increasing medical marijuana legalization, our findings suggest that marijuana may be substituting for opioids for cancer-related pain. Bao says a combination of factors may have contributed, including reduced patient requests for opioids and reduced clinicians prescribing them may have caused the reduction in opioid dispensing.

She said that these behaviors could be caused by actual substitution of medical marijuana for opioids or perceived substitutability.

Legal access to medical marijuana may have led to fewer opioids, or perhaps they are not as often asked for by patients who are self-managing their pain with cannabis.

Without data on clinician practices or patient use of medical marijuana, the nature of the observed associations remains unclear, the authors wrote in the paper.

Medical marijuana could be a substitute for opioids in some way, according to the findings. Future studies need to elucidate the associations and their implications for patient outcomes.