9 out of 10 Patients Prefer Cannabis Over Opioids

By Pat Anson, Editor

A survey of nearly 3,000 medical marijuana users has found that 9 out of 10 patients prefer cannabis over opioid medication when managing their chronic pain. A similar number prefer cannabis over non-opioid pain relievers such as Tylenol or Advil.

The survey was conducted by researchers at the University of California Berkeley and HelloMD, a website that links patients to doctors in California and New York that prescribe medical marijuana. The survey was administered by email to a HelloMD database of cannabis patients who were asked how marijuana affected their consumption of opioids and other pain relievers.

Eighty percent of those surveyed said that cannabis was more effective at relieving pain than opioid medication and 97 percent said they decreased their opioid use when using cannabis. The latter finding supports previous research that found use of prescription pain medication declining in states where medical marijuana is legal.

“The results of our study were striking, showing 97% of people were able to decrease the amount of opioids that they used in conjunction with cannabis use. This was more than double the amount shown in any previous studies conducted,” said Perry Solomon, MD, Chief Medical Officer of HelloMD.

DRUG POLICY ALLIANCE

DRUG POLICY ALLIANCE

“The (study) clearly showed that chronic pain is one of the medical conditions that cannabis can be used for with great efficacy. Our study not only supports this but also goes further in that the clear majority of patient’s state that they prefer it. Hopefully this will awaken the public, medical professionals and legislatures to the fact that there is a safe, non-addictive product available to help fight the opioid epidemic, and that is cannabis.”

Other key findings from the survey of medical marijuana users:

  • 93% said they prefer cannabis to opioids
  • 92% said cannabis' side effects were more tolerable than side effects from opioids
  • 90% said cannabis works well with non-opioid pain relievers
  • 96% said they need fewer non-opioid pain relievers when using cannabis
  • 89% said cannabis was more effective than non-opioid pain relievers

"With cannabis not only becoming more accepted in the mainstream but also coming in a variety of preparations, some of which are nonintoxicating, more people are looking at cannabis as a viable treatment for everyday ailments such as muscle soreness and inflammation,” wrote Amanda Reiman, PhD, of UC Berkeley and the Drug Policy Alliance, lead author of the study published in the journal of Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research.

“Participants in this study overwhelmingly supported the notion that they would be more likely to use cannabis as a substitute for pain medication if it were less stigmatized and more available, suggesting that there are populations of people who could benefit from this practice but are shying away due to the stigma and legal restrictions related to cannabis use.”

The survey should not be considered a scientific study on the effectiveness of cannabis, because participants were self-selected and reported their perceptions about cannabis use, as opposed to an objective measurement by a third party. There was also no control group of pain patients who only had access to opioids and other pain relievers.

A small study last year by the University of Michigan found that nearly two-thirds (64%) of medical marijuana patients reported a reduction in their use of prescription pain medications.

A 2014 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that opioid overdoses declined by nearly 25 percent in states where medical marijuana was legalized.

Survey Finds Medical Marijuana Safe and Effective

By Ellen Lenox Smith, Columnist

Recently HelloMD, an online “telehealth” service that provides consultations with doctors who can write prescriptions for medical marijuana, conducted an extensive survey of 1,400 of patients. Patients were asked to complete a questionnaire consisting of 31 questions dealing with their marijuana use.

The survey results (which you can see by clicking here)  really caught my attention and are very exciting.

The survey found that the most common conditions that medical marijuana was being used to treat were chronic pain, anxiety, stress and insomnia. Eight out of ten patients (84%) strongly agreed that cannabis provides them with relief from their symptoms.

Medical marijuana may be legal in 23 states, but many of those states have yet to certify chronic pain as a condition marijuana can be prescribed for. Yet we have 100 million in our country suffering from pain! Let’s hope surveys like this will help to educate those states.

“There were few to no reports of negative consequences of cannabis use, with over 96% of users either somewhat likely or highly likely to recommend cannabis use to friends, family or others seeking improved wellbeing,” according to the HelloMD report.

This statement does not surprise me at all, for we have not seen negative consequences of marijuana use since 2007, when my husband and I first started helping patients wanting to try cannabis. Those of us that have felt the benefits of cannabis talk and encourage others to consider trying it all the time when we meet someone who is suffering.

I also do not believe this was any select group surveyed by HellloMD, but are typical cannabis users that realized how gentle, safe and effective this medication is.

The survey found that middle aged and elderly patients were more likely to use marijuana for pain management, while younger age groups were using it to treat stress, anxiety, mental-health disorders, nausea and issues with appetite. I love this finding. That is exactly what we are observing in the different ages we deal with.  

HelloMD also found that social perception of cannabis use is moving into the mainstream of society, as more and more states pass legislation allowing medical marijuana.

“Amongst those that use medical marijuana, 82% are open with family members about their use with 44% strongly agreeing. 15% still hide their use from family members (perhaps their children, although this is unclear from our data). 59.5% of patients are open with their close friends and a further 35% with all friends (close and otherwise). Only 5.3% do not admit to friends that they use medical marijuana,” the report found.

How exciting that we are now able to feel comfortable sharing the truth of our lives and the benefits we are gaining by being allowed to use this medication. As the report points out, there has never been a death from overdose attributed to cannabis and the safety record of cannabis is superior to that of pharmaceutical pain medications. This reinforces what we have been observing and I am thrilled what we have been saying is mentioned here!

“Our data indicates that 78% of those using cannabis for health and wellness are above the age of 25. In stark contrast to the stoner stereotype, these people are highly educated working professionals. Many are parents. They could be your friends, your colleagues, or your neighbors. All of them have legitimate health issues. All of them are seeking alternatives to traditional prescribed medication considered toxic and laden with the potential of negative side effects,” the report concludes.

Thanks to surveys like this, we can continue to work to get the education out there for people to understand that those of us using cannabis for pain are not all getting high or stoned. The brain receptors react to marijuana and we simply get pain relief! However, anyone can take too much of any medication and have a negative reaction.

I hope we will see even more surveys about medical marijuana, along with research, so that more will get on board and understand the advantages of this plant.

Ellen and Stuart.JPG

Ellen Lenox Smith suffers from Ehlers Danlos syndrome and sarcoidosis. Ellen and her husband Stuart live in Rhode Island. They are co-directors for medical marijuana advocacy for the U.S. Pain Foundation and serve as board members for the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition.

For more information about medical marijuana, visit their website.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

'Telehealth' Doctor Visits for Medical Marijuana

By Pat Anson, Editor

With medical marijuana legal in 23 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, millions of Americans can now legally obtain cannabis to treat chronic pain and other health conditions.

But many pain patients are leery about asking their doctors for a medical marijuana card or about visiting a marijuana dispensary in some shady part of town.

Into this void has stepped HelloMD, the first “telehealth” provider to offer live online video consultations with a physician about medical marijuana. For $49 – a fraction of the cost of visiting a doctor in their office -- the company says it will provide a private consultation with a licensed physician via a desktop computer, laptop or mobile device. If the doctor agrees on the need, they will write a medical marijuana recommendation for immediate use.

HelloMD also provides links to trusted marijuana dispensaries and delivery services – meaning the patient never has to leave the comfort of their own home.

“Delivery service is really what they’re interested in,” says Mark Hadfield, CEO and Founder of HelloMD. “The patients that we’re talking about, the elderly, infirm, professionals, moms and dads, are people that are concerned about confidentiality; they don’t want to end up in a state database, they don’t want to be filmed going in and out of a dispensary. Those people were never going to get their (marijuana) cards prior to this service.”

HelloMD began providing medical marijuana consultations in March, but the San Francisco based company has actually been around for two years, at first providing online access for patients interested in reaching neurologists, oncologists and other medical specialists.

“It’s a very hot space. Digital health care is a multi-billion dollar segment growing very, very rapidly. It’s also very competitive. There are at least five or six companies with tens of millions of dollars in funding competing for that space. The latest one is Walgreens,” Hadfield told Pain News Network.

Faced with that kind of competition, HelloMD decided to focus exclusively on medical marijuana.

“There’s obviously a big need. A lot of doctors are leery, uninformed or uncomfortable with cannabis. A lot of people go to their traditional doctors and they’re told they’re just not able to advise them on that,” Hadfield said.

“We think there’s a much bigger demographic that until now has not been involved in cannabis products. So millions of Americans are coming into the industry for the first time and are curious to try those products. And so our goal is to be the resource for those patients, starting off with connecting them with the right medical assistance and keeping them compliant with the law.”

For now, HelloMD can only provide medical marijuana consultations to people in California. It has about a dozen doctors “on call” in the state to meet online with patients. Many of the physicians are retired or semi-retired and work from their own homes.

The company plans to expand into other medical marijuana states later this year and to recruit about 300 doctors nationwide. Doctors must be licensed to practice medicine in the state where their patient is located.

About 150 patients a week are currently getting consultations on HelloMD.

"We were quite surprised to find that the majority of folks coming through our service were not recreational users at all.  Instead we met retirees, veterans, and working professionals looking for alternative medicinal treatments to a wide variety of conditions spanning chronic pain through everyday anxiety and stress,” says Perry Solomon, MD, Chief Medical Officer at HelloMD.

“All of them had heard about marijuana as an alternative but found their general practitioner lacking the knowledge to offer good advice. They didn't know where to go for more information on medical marijuana, who to talk with, or how to go about becoming a legal patient. Many had difficulty leaving their homes while others were afraid to venture into the parts of town where medical marijuana practitioners were likely to be found."

According to a new report by the National Business Group on Health, telehealth services are saving companies more than $6 billion in healthcare costs.  American Well, Doctor on Demand, MD Live and Teladoc offer online consultations with a physician for about $40 to $50.