Patients and Doctors Finally Talking About Medical Cannabis

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Communication is important in every relationship, especially between doctors and patients. And a new survey suggests that the stigma that has long kept cannabis a dirty secret in the exam room may finally be disappearing.   

The survey of 445 healthcare providers who treat chronic pain found that 72% of them have patients who requested or asked about medical cannabis in the last 30 days. Patients asked about cannabis far more often than other alternative pain treatments, such as acupuncture (37%), physical therapy (13%) and massage (10%).

The online survey was recently conducted by Cannaceutica, a healthcare company developing a line of cannabis products to treat pain. A variety of providers participated in the survey, including general practitioners, pain management specialists, neurologists, rheumatologists, and nurse practitioners.

People weren’t always so willing to talk to healthcare providers about cannabis, fearing they’d be seen as pot heads or even be dropped as patients. National surveys conducted in 2018 and 2019 found that less than 40% of patients told their doctors about their cannabis use.  

More patients are talking about cannabis today, and more doctors are willing to listen. The vast majority of providers (81%) in the Cannaceutica survey believe cannabis will play a role in the future management of chronic pain, but only one in four are likely to recommend it now. The primary factors holding them back are legal and regulatory issues, and the lack of good quality cannabis research.

Medical cannabis is legal in 36 states, but remains illegal at the federal level. If cannabis were legalized federally, 74% of providers said they would be likely to recommend it to a patient.

To increase their comfort level about recommending cannabis, providers want to see more research and documentation about cannabis as a pain treatment. Nearly two-thirds (64%) said patients were their main source of information about cannabis, followed by the internet (44%) and medical journals (40%).

Over half the providers surveyed said current treatment options are insufficient to treat chronic pain (56%) and that they were actively seeking alternatives (58%) for their patients. It’s worth noting that pain management specialists were most likely to say current treatments are inadequate (59%) and that they were seeking alternative treatments (66%).  

Clinical Trial Seeks Volunteers

Cannaceutica is currently enrolling chronic pain patients in a clinical trial to test the safety and efficacy of its cannabis capsules, which contain a blend of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), as well as the cannabinoids cannabichromene (CBC) and cannabigerol (CBG). A recent study found that CBG boosts the potency of cannabis products used to treat chronic pain, depression, insomnia and anxiety.

The observational study is being led by University of California, Irvine researcher Dr. Marcela Dominguez. She and her team hope to enroll 107 patients in the trial, which is expected to last 14 to 16 weeks. They’re looking for people who have experienced pain for at least three months, have tried at least two different medications, and are not currently using cannabis. Patients with fibromyalgia or cancer pain are not eligible to participate.

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