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There is good news about more cannabis research! The federal government is expanding cannabis research on chronic pain, which is great news for mature adults as so many of us suffer from chronic pain. Last March, the U.S. government posted three different official notices seeking data about studies on opioid treatments, non-opioid treatments, and non-invasive treatments. The government is asking medical professionals and institutions to submit legitimate scientific studies for the government’s review. It will then analyze the studies to add information to its chronic pain treatment database.
The federal requests for data are important because changing cannabis policy at the federal level will rely on both scientific data and public political pressure. As scientific research increases it weakens the federal government’s current designation of cannabis as a Schedule I drug. As a Schedule 1 drug, it designates cannabis as having no medical value. Currently, medicinal cannabis is legal in 33 states, Washington, DC, Puerto Rico, and Guam. For mature adults using medicinal marijuana for chronic pain, this is a welcome development because legalization at the federal level will have an enormous, positive impact on access to cannabis. This change will not happen overnight, but incremental steps like this will help.
While a bit technical, here are brief summaries of the government’s requests for information that open the door for additional cannabis research:
1. Opioid Treatments for Chronic Pain
The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) is seeking scientific information for its review on Opioid Treatments for Chronic Pain, which is currently being conducted by the AHRQ’s Evidence-based Practice Centers (EPC) Program. The AHRQ believes that gaining access to published and unpublished scientific information will improve the quality of this review.
For patients with chronic pain, the AHRQ is comparing opioids with non-opioid therapies including marijuana on outcomes related to pain, function, and quality of life. They are looking at short-term follow-up (up to 6 months), intermediate-term follow-up (6 to 12 months), and long-term follow-up (at least 1 year). The government is seeking information on the risks of opioids, how the opioids used work; use of sedative-hypnotics; and use of marijuana.
2. Non-Opioid Pharmacologic Treatments for Chronic Pain
The EPC Program is looking for studies that report on Non-opioid Pharmacologic Treatments for Chronic Pain, including those that describe adverse events. In patients with chronic pain, what is the effectiveness of non-opioid pharmacologic medicine versus placebo for pain, function, and quality of life? In patients with chronic pain, what are the risks of non-opioid pharmacologic medicine for harms including overdose, misuse, dependence, withdrawals due to adverse events, and serious events (including falls, fractures, motor vehicle accidents), and specific adverse events?
The EPC is also looking for information on pain (intensity, severity, bothersomeness); function (physical disability, activity limitations, activity interference, work function); and quality of life including depression.
3. Non-invasive, Non-pharmacologic Treatment for Chronic Pain
The EPC seeks to review the evidence for Non-invasive, Non-pharmacologic Treatment for Chronic Pain. In patients with chronic pain, what is the effectiveness of alternative pain management medicine for outcomes related to pain, function, and quality of life, after short-term, intermediate, and long-term treatment duration?
What are the risks of non-opioid pharmacologic medicine including overdose, misuse, dependence, withdrawals due to adverse events, and serious adverse events (including falls, fractures, motor vehicle accidents)? How do harms vary depending on the specific type or cause of pain; patient demographics; the dose of medication used; and the duration of treatment?
Again, it’s an important development that the federal government is seeking scientific research on how cannabis (among other alternatives to traditional opioid treatment) may play a role in pain management. It’s one more step in the government admitting that cannabis should be removed from the list of Schedule 1 drugs. Hopefully, scientific research will help change more minds of people working in the federal government who currently oppose legalization. Facts and education are a good thing.
Karl Phillips is a writer who covers the cannabis community from Los Angeles, California.