A large percentage of young adults who use cannabis were found to resort to this option for chronic pain management, according to a study published in the Journal of Pain.

Researchers collected cross-sectional survey data of 143 young adults (mean age, 23.85 years) who used cannabis and resided in the Pacific Northwest. A subset of participants with chronic pain were subsequently enrolled in a secondary study (n=25). The investigators collected demographic data as well as pain history and characteristics, including pain intensity assessed with an 11-point numeric rating scale. Participants were asked to identify pain locations by clicking on areas of a body map on a computer. Pain-related disability and the frequency of cannabis use and cannabis-related problems were assessed with the PROMIS v1.0-Pain Interference-Short Form 8a and the Rutgers Marijuana Problem Index, respectively.

A total of 40% of patients met the criteria for chronic pain, and 22.4% reported clinically significant pain-related interference. Patients reported moderate intensity of usual pain. Cannabis users without vs with chronic pain were more likely to use the drug for social, expansion, coping, conformity, and routine motivations (P <.001 for all).

Pain relief was the most common motivation for cannabis use in patients with chronic pain (P <.001). Patients with vs without chronic pain were also more likely to use cannabis by themselves (P <.001), to use higher quantities of cannabis per episode (P =.005), to use cannabis at an earlier age (P =.037), and to have used it regularly for a longer period (P =.001).

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Cannabis users with vs without chronic pain reported fewer negative consequences associated with cannabis use in the past 30 days (P =.005), a difference which was no longer observed when adjusting for gender and education (P =.072). The most common negative consequences of cannabis use included symptoms of tolerance and dependence, neglecting responsibilities, going to work or school while high, and feeling that use was problematic.

Study limitations include the cross-sectional nature of the data and the reliance on self-reports for cannabis consumption.

“Primary care practitioners and pain specialists should be aware that their clients may be using cannabis for pain relief and that they may lack awareness of its potential negative consequences. Thus, researchers and clinicians working with this population should assess cannabis use in the context of chronic pain, pain management, and overall well-being,” noted the study authors.

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Reference

Fales JL, Ladd BO, Magnan RE. Pain relief as a motivation for cannabis use among young adult users with and without chronic pain [published online February 6, 2019]. J Pain. doi: 10.1016/j.jpain.2019.02.001