Often, the argument for medical marijuana over opioid painkillers is presented as “this or that,” but a new study shows cannabis could be used to supplement prescription painkillers to make treatment more effective and avoid issuing higher doses of addictive opioids.
According to the research published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, clinical trial data showed that when cannabis was administered alongside “sub-therapeutic doses” of oxycodone, the two worked synergistically to relieve the patient’s pain as effectively as a higher dose of strictly oxycodone.
The double-blind, placebo-controlled study was conducted by a team of researchers from the United States and Australia. Subjects were divided into three groups. One was administered inhaled cannabis, the other low-dose oxycodone and the third received both. Researchers examined their response over the course of treatment.
The study showed that neither the low-dose oxycodone nor the smoked cannabis subsided the subjects’ pain alone, but the combination of the two proved effective.
“Both active cannabis and a low dose of oxycodone (2.5 mg) were sub-therapeutic, failing to elicit analgesia on their own,” said the study. “However, when administered together, pain responses … were significantly reduced, pointing to the opioid-sparing effects of cannabis.”
“Smoked cannabis combined with an ineffective analgesic dose of oxycodone produced analgesia comparable to an effective opioid analgesic dose.”
A similar study conducted in 2011 found similar results with vaporized cannabis. That study shows states with legalized medical marijuana have seen a reduction in not only fatal overdoses but painkiller prescriptions overall.