Living with Pain - Views of Medicinal Cannabis
The Australian Pain Management Association held a nationwide online survey seeking opinions about medicinal cannabis and experiences of the use of non-medicinal cannabis products for the treatment of chronic pain.
There was an overwhelming response. In under one week almost 600 consumers completed the survey questions 85% of those live with chronic pain.
The survey was promoted via the Australian Pain Management Association Inc. (APMA) main website and on APMA’s main Facebook page and other APMA social media channels.
The survey consisted of 10 questions gauging demographics, viewpoints about the effectiveness of medicinal cannabis, sources of scientific/medical evidence, clinical elements, including type of chronic pain, and experiences with and opinions towards cannabis use in chronic pain.
The survey attempted to get a better understanding of:
• What is the level of awareness of state governments moving to legalise medicinal cannabis?
• Whether people living with pain thought medicinal cannabis is potentially beneficial for chronic pain?
• What health condition/s health consumers hoped could likely benefit from taking medicinal cannabis?
• Whether there is a belief that scientific evidence supports the effectiveness of medicinal cannabis and what the source/s is for verifying the idea
• Whether health consumers have used cannabis, and what health conditions health consumers have used it for in an attempt to gain pain relief?
Australia’s health consumers have a high awareness (87%) that State governments are currently acting to legalise medicinal cannabis. An overwhelming 98% of respondents believe the product should be available to be prescribed for chronic pain.
There were a wide range of conditions flagged as likely to benefit from being prescribed medicinal cannabis. The top five conditions included:
1. Back pain
2. Nerve pain
4. Neck pain
Given respondents had a choice of ticking as many of the 11 identified conditions as they wanted, the results showed a high response rate for these more common conditions listed. More than 80% of respondents believe that back pain and nerve pain are likely to benefit from medicinal cannabis. 75% suppose that arthritis will benefit from medical cannabis and a majority also expect that neck pain and fibromyalgia will gain pain relief from being prescribed medicinal cannabis.
In the ‘other’ category health condition/s (that could possibly benefit from medicinal cannabis), respondents identified a high number of 258 other conditions in their responses. This was in addition to the 11 more common chronic pain conditions referred to above. The ‘other’ conditions identified spanned chronic pain conditions such as polymyalgia through to mental health conditions, for example, post-traumatic stress disorder, acute pain and palliative care.
A large majority of respondents (504 or 85%) consider that medicinal cannabis has the scientific evidence to support its use as being beneficial for chronic pain conditions. Many people sourced this information from social media (48%) and more than 44% got their verification from online news or current affairs. A relatively high number of respondents also obtained their information from medical (41%) and scientific (39%) journals. Only 8% of respondents had not seen any scientific evidence.
The majority of the survey respondents (72%) had previously used cannabis (marijuana) for pain relief. The main health conditions that respondents had used cannabis for included:
• back pain (48%)
• nerve pain (41%)
• neck pain (32%)
• arthritis (30%)
• other (please specify) (33%)
Overall, these consumer views about potential medicinal cannabis show a strong belief that it will assist to alleviate pain in a wide variety of acute and chronic pain conditions. Australia is currently conducting trials into medicinal cannabis and the results of those trials are not yet known. Only 28% of participants identified as not having used cannabis for analgesic purposes.
The survey has limitations. The results are mostly coming from a self-selected group of people who live with chronic pain, so it is not representative of the general Australian community. The survey results do not provide data about participants’ current medication use or the effectiveness of these medications.
The specificity, reliability and generalisability of the scientific evidence sighted or cited by respondents is unknown. Given the widely recognized limitations of much of the current medical science regarding the effectiveness of cannabis and cannabinoids in the treatment of the wide range of pain conditions in terms of study designs, focus of studies, measurement of dose and dose response, it is likely to be of limited and poor quality.
This survey does provide insight into the viewpoints of health consumers and the sources that have informed these opinions. It is also of value showing a high number of respondents’ current or past use of cannabis products for chronic pain, and in particular, some of the health conditions that cannabis has been used by these respondents to reduce chronic pain.
The need to undertake further well designed research as a priority is now widely acknowledged and APMA strongly supports the prioritisation of this research.