The FDA recently made waves by issuing new opioid guidelines. Although the new guidelines contain some significant changes, the FDA still recommends gradual tapering rather than pulling patients off opioid medications cold turkey. It is hard to argue against such recommendations. But it’s time to go a step further to seriously consider opioid tapering in conjunction with Medical Cannabis use.
Gradual tapering from opioid medications constitutes sound medical science. We know how addictive opioid medications are. We also know the dangers of cold turkey withdrawal. We even have scientific data that indicates chronic pain patients actually feel better when successfully tapered from opioids. So with all that knowledge, it is time to start looking at Medical Cannabis as an alternative to opioids during the tapering process.
Here in Utah, chronic pain is one of the qualifying conditions for Medical Cannabis. Certain types of acute pain also qualify. It is a safe assumption that every other state with legal Medical Cannabis allows doctors to recommend it as a pain treatment. We say all that to say this: those who believe in the efficacy of Medical Cannabis generally agree that it helps patients find an acceptable level of relief from chronic and acute pain.
This should not be discounted in any discussions involving opioid reduction. If we are serious enough about tackling the opioid issue to encourage clinicians to look at alternate treatments, one of those alternate treatments ought to be Medical Cannabis.
As far as opioid tapering is concerned, it is often done in conjunction with substitute medications that still offer patients pain relief. Why not recommend Medical Cannabis as a substitute medication? If it can help relieve pain while patients are slowly weaned from opioids, it seems senseless to not recommend it.
We previously mentioned study data indicating that patients actually feel better after completing a tapering program. Let’s look more closely at that study. It was published in 2019, and it looked at more than 2,100 cases of patients who were prescribed opioid medications for chronic pain.
Each patient was tapered from opioids according to standard guidelines. At the conclusion of tapering, 81.25% reported improvement in their pain. Just 15% reported no change in how they felt. Finally, 3% reported more pain at the completion of tapering.
Looked at another way, 97% of the patients either felt better or noticed no difference in their pain levels following opioid tapering. Just 3% felt worse. The point is that patients can be successfully tapered without worsening their conditions. So there is no good reason to not do it.
Any and all patients who still need some measure of pain relief after opioid tapering should have access to as many choices as possible. For some, the best choice is going to be Medical Cannabis. Others will find pain relief through OTC medications, physical therapy, or other means.