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Research

New Study: 3 Months of Medical Marijuana Eases Pain, Anxiety

Lemetria Whitehurst

by Lemetria Whitehurst

January 11, 2024 08:00 am ET Estimated Read Time: 6 Minutes
Fact checked by Kymberly Drapcho
New Study: 3 Months of Medical Marijuana Eases Pain, Anxiety

Do you suffer from chronic pain, anxiety, or depression? If so, then you’re certainly not alone – these conditions affect countless people worldwide. Research estimates that approximately 20% of people worldwide suffer from chronic pain. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic took a toll on global mental health, with anxiety and depression rates skyrocketing by over 25%, according to estimations by the World Health Organization. 

Undoubtedly, this has led to a vast increase in “big pharma” prescriptions to manage these conditions. 

But what if there was a safe and natural way to ease these symptoms? 

A new study published in the esteemed journal PLoS ONE found that three months of daily medical marijuana use can significantly boost patients’ quality of life while reducing pain, anxiety, and depression. Let’s look at this groundbreaking study to see how Australian researchers arrived at this conclusion.

Overview of the Study

The study focused on the QUEST Initiative, an extensive project aimed at examining the impact of medicinal cannabis on patients with various chronic health conditions. This large-scale, prospective multicenter study focused on Australian patients who were recently prescribed cannabis for medicinal use between November 2020 and December 2021. 

A diverse group of individuals, ranging in age from 18 to 97 years with an average age of 51, participated in the study. Of note, the majority of participants were female, accounting for 62.8% of the sample. 

When looking into the specific ailments they faced, researchers found that chronic pain was the most prevalent, with 69% of participants reporting it. Chronic pain was followed by insomnia (23%), anxiety (22%), and a combined category of anxiety/depression (11%). 

It is worth noting that half of these patients were grappling with multiple conditions simultaneously.

Key Findings from the Study

Health-Related Quality of Life (HRQL) and Fatigue

One of the most significant findings was the remarkable improvement in HRQL among participants. Notably, over the course of the initial three months of cannabis treatment, participants experienced substantial enhancements in their HRQL. Additionally, they reported reduced fatigue, significantly improving their daily functionality and overall well-being. 

However, it is crucial to highlight a disparity in these findings: participants who stayed with the treatment for the entire three months experienced more pronounced benefits than those who discontinued earlier. These findings emphasize the potential for medicinal cannabis to be beneficial in HRQL and fatigue management.

Pain Measures

Pain, an often debilitating symptom for many with chronic conditions, displayed encouraging improvement trends. Across the board, participants reported a noteworthy reduction in pain levels. Nonetheless, it is essential to note that the intensity of this relief varied. Participants diagnosed with chronic pain experienced a more pronounced decrease in pain measures compared to those not receiving targeted pain treatment.

Mental Health Conditions

The research explored the complex realm of mental health, shedding light on conditions such as anxiety and depression. Surprisingly, trends showed a decrease in the severity of symptoms for both conditions throughout the study. 

Even more interestingly, participants diagnosed with specific mental health conditions experienced even more significant improvements, moving from moderate or severe symptom categories to milder manifestations. These findings confirm the usefulness of medicinal cannabis as a healing aid for these disorders.

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Unexpected Findings Related To Sleep and Insomnia

Contrary to popular belief, medicinal cannabis did not significantly improve participants’ sleep patterns. This finding was consistent even when specifically analyzing those with diagnosed insomnia. 

Among the 534 individuals in this group, their sleep did not exhibit noteworthy changes, aligning with the results observed in participants without insomnia. In conclusion, while medicinal cannabis may offer various benefits, it does not appear to have a primary effect on improving sleep.

Treatment Challenges and Participant Dropouts

Although the study yielded promising findings, it faced some hurdles as 127 participants discontinued their involvement over a three-month period. Reasons for withdrawal cited a variety of reasons:

  • 52 individuals did not perceive the treatment as effective
  • 31 opted to switch treatments
  • 30 encountered side effects
  • 14 found the costs to be prohibitive

Nevertheless, it is worth noting that most participants, including dropouts, experienced some degree of relief, highlighting the effectiveness of medicinal cannabis while acknowledging that it may not be universally suitable.

The Placebo Effect and Its Implications

The significance of perception cannot be underestimated in medical treatments, and the researchers clearly acknowledged this fact. In light of the widespread public debate and buzz on social media regarding the medicinal properties of cannabis, it is conceivable that the placebo effect might influence some observed improvements. 

In simpler terms, the firm belief in the power of cannabis, amplified by societal conversations, could unintentionally raise participants’ expectations and perceptions of relief. While the findings of this study are certainly promising, these external influences emphasize the urgent need for further research. 

Specifically, randomized controlled trials with control groups are essential to meticulously isolate and validate the healing effects of medicinal cannabis, separate from any placebo-driven outcomes.

Continuing Study and Future Prospects

While the initial findings have laid a foundation of understanding, the research is far from over. The study’s authors are keenly interested in observing the long-term implications of medicinal cannabis therapy. They plan to continue monitoring participants over a more extended 12-month period. This prolonged observation aims to determine whether the initial improvements in patient-reported outcomes persist over time or if they wane. 

In addition, the researchers show a deep curiosity in conducting subgroup analyses to uncover the intricate differences in how medicinal cannabis impacts various conditions. By honing in on specific conditions and comparing them to broader group data, researchers aspire to gain a more granulated understanding of which ailments respond most favorably to cannabis therapy and why.

Final Thoughts

The outcomes of the study shed light on the immense power of medicinal cannabis in significantly improving the quality of life for patients. Particularly, the study impacts those struggling with chronic pain, mental health challenges, and fatigue. As the U.S. continues its ongoing discussions on cannabis legalization and medical applications, these findings could play a vital role in shaping policy decisions. 

It is crucial to embrace further rigorous and controlled studies. Embracing these findings could validate these outcomes and the long-term implications of medicinal cannabis. By taking inspiration from such international studies, America could adopt more informed, comprehensive, and patient-centered approaches in its ever-evolving cannabis landscape.

Note: The content on this page is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be professional medical advice. Do not attempt to self-diagnose or prescribe treatment based on the information provided. Always consult a physician before making any decision on the treatment of a medical condition.

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