Chronic Pain Patients Rejoice - Relief May Come in the Form of Medical Cannabis
Chronic pain is a multi-faceted condition with a variety of root causes and severity levels. Despite being such a complex topic, chronic pain has been typically treated the same way, with opioids. Medications like fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine and more are synthetic drugs with highly addictive properties. Chronic pain conditions can force people to modify their daily actions, or prevent them from functioning entirely. As a result, we are in an undeniable opioid crisis, a phrase we hear in the news on a regular basis.
Overuse and overprescribing have left many with dependency and addiction issues pertaining to opioids. With increased rates of abuse, the government has made it more difficult to obtain pain therapies. However it isn’t enough to simply limit access to opioids, there has to be an alternative to help patients manage their pain. So far the attempted mitigation of opioid use is reducing prescriptions and access to pain treatments like injection therapy. This can fuel illicit market sales and leave some patients without being able to utilize the treatments that provide them quality of life.
Dr. Pearson - The ‘Pot’ Doctor
A promising alternative to opioid treatment is cannabis medicine, and we need doctors who specialize in this area now more than ever. Dr. Pearson, who runs a cannabinoid medicine clinic in Sarnia, ON, did not imagine he would become a ‘pot doctor’ when he began his path as a physician. However it ended up the best move of his life, his current position allows him to help patients in a way he simply couldn’t have with traditional pharmaceutical treatments.
Medical cannabis is a legitimate alternative to opioids for treating chronic pain. There is an undeniable trend in patients finding relief from the pain they typically treat with opioids. Dr. Pearson has witnessed first hand the results of cannabis medicine, especially when nothing else has worked. His patients are experiencing more mobility, improved mood, less pain, and most importantly, a higher quality of life.
Potential Inhibited by Price
In addition to Dr. Pearson’s work, other medical studies are also finding that cannabis is a viable alternative to opioid prescriptions though it still isn’t the first line of treatment. In fact, medical cannabis is proving to be more than just a pain treatment, it can also help wean patients off highly addictive drugs like fentanyl and morphine. The barrier to cannabinoid medicine getting the research it needs, and subsequently being used by patients, is simply the cost. On the patient side, cannabis therapies are not covered by the government or many insurance companies. If a patient is on assistance or covered by work health benefits, they will be able to have relief on the price of most opioids ranging from 75-100% coverage. Medical cannabis costs are not eligible for such savings, in fact it is subject to double taxing in the form of HST and an ‘excise tax’. Access is also far more difficult than traditional treatments, patients are forced to order through the mail, getting their medications through Canada Post instead of trained pharmacists. Despite the risks, opioid treatment is the only accessible treatment for many chronic pain sufferers.
On the medical industry side, there isn’t the kind of research and funding going in to cannabinoid treatments like there is for traditional avenues of medicine. We are really just beginning to understand cannabinoid medicine, there is still much to be discovered in regards to cannabis as a treatment for chronic pain. Unfortunately without the studies needed to understand how cannabis treats disease, it leaves doctors in need of the data necessary to make educated choices.
While anecdotal as evidence, Strainprint has been a huge asset in collecting patient data on how cannabis affects a variety of patient conditions. Strainprint is an organization that launched as an an app and online community for medical cannabis patients to record the dosing, timing, and effectiveness of their sessions. They are now the leading medical cannabis data provider in all of North America with over 55M data points and 1.5M tracked medical cannabis outcomes. Today Strainprint operates as a research company - fueling important research such as an upcoming Endometriosis study. Founder Stephanie Karasick says she knew she couldn’t be the the only one feeling overwhelmed by trying figure out how to medicate with cannabis. In a world where we track our steps, periods, sleep patterns, and more, why couldn’t we also track our medications and how each strain makes us feel? In a recent study conducted by Strainprint, 84% of respondents said that using medical cannabis has allowed them to reduce, or eliminate, their opioid intake for pain management. It certainly would be interesting to see how these numbers would be affected if patients were able to afford alternate therapies.
The Future is Bright
In a program lead by Dr. Pearson, a long term care facility has been treating seniors with cannabis oil to see how it affects patients. Residents at the facility entered into the study and reported feeling better to the point where they were able to reduce both their opioid and antipsychotic intake. Staff said that the program far exceeded their initial expectations and even seemed to be helping patients that had had less than optimal results with pharmaceutical treatment.
Perhaps the most exciting thing about cannabis being used to treat chronic pain is the sheer potential. There is a population of our sisters, brothers, families, and loved ones whom the pharmaceutical world have failed. According to Statistics Canada approximately 6 million people live in chronic pain, many of those are not helped by typical treatment options. Dr. Pearson is confident that he will see the results of his clinic mirrored on a broader scale as the research becomes available. He hopes that his work will allow more physicians to be comfortable prescribing cannabis as medication.