A new study conducted by a doctoral student at the University of British Columbia in Okanogan shows that frequent cannabis use does not increase pain sensitivity in users. The findings are in stark contrast to long-term opioid use which is known to have side effects of increased sensitivity to pain.
“Recent years have seen an increase in the adoption of cannabinoid medicines, which have demonstrated effectiveness for the treatment of chronic pain,“ said Michelle St. Pierre, who conducted the study. “However, the extent to which frequent cannabis use influences sensitivity to acute pain has not been systematically examined.”
St. Pierre noted that a recent survey of medical cannabis patients reported more than half used cannabis for pain relief. Her study measured levels of pain intensity and tolerance, speculating that frequent cannabis users would have greater pain sensitivity, but instead, she found no differences in those who used cannabis and those who did not.
The study involved subjects who use cannabis more than three times a week as well as people who do not use cannabis at all. Participants were subjected to a test where they submerged a hand and forearm in icy water for a sustained period of time.
“Our results suggest frequent cannabis use did not seem to be associated with elevated sensitivity to experimental pain in a manner that can occur in opioid therapy,” St. Pierre said. “This is an important distinction that care providers and patients should consider when selecting options for pain management.”
St. Pierre added that sustained use of opioids can make people more reactive to pain and ultimately might force them to use higher doses to manage it, which increases the risk of opioid addiction and overdose.
“This study should come as good news to patients who are already using cannabis to treat pain,” said co-author Zach Walsh. “Increases in pain sensitivity with opioids can really complicate an already tough situation; given the increasing uptake of cannabis-based pain medications it’s a relief that we didn’t identify a similar pattern with cannabinoids.”