“To our knowledge, this is one of the longest, in-depth, prospective studies of a community cohort of people with chronic non-cancer pain, examining the effects of cannabis use on pain and prescribed opioid use,” the team wrote.
Of course, this research cannot provide the definitive answer about the benefits – or lack thereof – associated with medical marijuana due to several key limitations. Firstly, as Dr Campbell’s team concedes themselves, it is possible that the individuals who sought out marijuana were more distressed by their pain and had higher rates of anxiety in the first place, though it is puzzling that these individuals did not appear to improve over time while using it.
Secondly, the study was conducted prior to Australia’s legalization of medical marijuana, meaning that the subjects who were taking it had to turn to illicit sources and likely did not have access to products specially designed for pain treatment such as high-CBD tinctures and edibles. These people were thus unable to create a structured pain management plan with a medical provider, which could have led to significant differences in outcomes.
This study is sure to incite a fierce debate among the proponents and opponents of medical cannabis, and given the dire need for pain-managing drugs that don’t cause dependency (it is now estimated that more than 115 people die from opioid overdose every day in the US alone), both scientists and activists will continue pushing for more research.