Medicinal cannabis may not as effective as once thought as a solution for sleep problems for those with chronic pain in the long run, according to new findings from two studies- one observational, and the other a review of previous clinical trials.
For their first study, researchers wanted to understand the impact of medical marijuana on sleep problems experienced by those with chronic pain aged 50 and above. To do this, they assessed and compared the sleep quality of 128 people over 50 with chronic pain alongside their pain scores. Of the cohort, 66 used medical marijuana to manage their pain while 62 didn’t.
After controlling for factors including average pain scores, age, gender and the use of other sleep aids or antidepressants, the researchers found that there were no differences between both the marijuana-using group and the non-marijuana group in terms of time taken to fall asleep and how often they woke up early. They did however find that those using medicinal cannabis were less likely to awaken during the night than the control group.
Further analysis of the sleep patterns among those using medical marijuana found however that more frequent usage of cannabis was associated with more difficulty falling asleep, and more frequent waking throughout the night.
According to the researchers, this may mean that over time, cannabis users build a tolerance for the substance, thus dampening its positive effects. They also noted however that this finding may have come about as more frequent users of the substance may also just be in more pain, or have higher general levels of depression and anxiety which in turn lead to more profound sleeping problems.
Although indicative of marijuana’s limitations when managing pain, as this was an observational study, the researchers were careful not to draw any strong conclusions from their findings. Thus to clarify their hypotheses further, in their second study, they examined data from five clinical studies involving 1,442 people. This time however, rather than suffering from generic “chronic pain”, patients suffered from pain specifically associated to cancer.
In their results, they found that changes in average pain intensity scores did not differ between those taking cannabinoids and those on a placebo. Thus, the researchers concluded that there is good evidence suggesting that cannabinoids are not effective in treating cancer-related pain, and thus should not be recommended as a treatment option.