A study published in the August 2020 issue of Clinical Journal of Pain found that long-term cannabis use does not increase sensitivity to pain.
Conducted in the University of British Columbia Okanagan psychology department, the study explored differences in measures of pain intensity and tolerance. The authors hypothesized that people who frequently use cannabis would demonstrate great pain sensitivity.
“Recent years have seen an increase in the adoption of cannabinoid medicines, which have demonstrated effectiveness for the treatment of chronic pain,” said lead researcher and doctoral student Michelle St. Pierre. “However, the extent to which frequent cannabis use influences sensitivity to acute pain has not been systematically examined.”
Study participants – volunteers who either used cannabis more than three times a week or didn’t use cannabis at all – were subjected to a cold-pressor task test, where they submerged a hand and forearm in icy water for a sustained amount of time. Cannabis users and nonusers did not exhibit differences on measures of pain tolerance, indicating that frequent cannabis use is not associated with hyperalgesia – a condition where a person develops an increased sensitivity to pain.
“There is a different effect from opioid users; sustained use of opioids can make people more reactive to pain. We wanted to determine if there was a similar trend for people who use cannabis frequently,” said St. Pierre.
In managing chronic pain with opiods, there is a risk of addiction, overdose and opioid-induced hyperalgesia. A patient with hyperalgesia might increase their opioid dosage to manage the pain, further increasing the risk of addiction.
“These findings are particularly relevant in light of recent reports of opioid overprescribing and high rates of pain in the population, as it suggests that cannabis may not carry the same risk of hyperalgesia as opioids,” said St. Pierre.
“This study should come as good news to patients who are already using cannabis to treat pain,” said co-author Zach Walsh, who leads the UBC Therapeutic Recreational and Problematic Substance Use Lab. “Increases in pain sensitivity with opioids can really complicate an already tough situation; given increasing uptake of cannabis-based pain medications it’s a relief that we didn’t identify a similar pattern with cannabinoids.”
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