The hype in the media that surrounds cannabis and health benefits supposedly associated with its use may be detrimental to individuals with certain conditions desperate for a solution. While aiming to learn more about what factors increase the risk of cannabis use disorder, scientists from a new study found that the perception that cannabis products can reduce the experience of pain may be increasing the risk of cannabis use disorder for individuals dealing with chronic pain.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5) combines cannabis abuse and dependence to define cannabis use disorder: the “behavioral disorder that can occur with chronic cannabis use.” This includes non-medical cannabis use that is frequent, problematic, or both.
Whether it is due to biased marketing campaigns from cannabis product companies are misguided publications in the media, many people perceive cannabis as not only harmless, but even beneficial for alleviating pain, soothing anxiety, and remedying other common conditions. “Non-medical use of cannabis on a daily or near-daily basis has increased,” explained study leader Deborah Hasin, PhD. “This [perception] puts a large group of U.S. adults at risk for frequent non-medical use and cannabis use disorder.”
The common perception of cannabis as harmless and associated with health benefits is all in spite of the fact that there is not clear scientific evidence that cannabis helps with alleviating pain. It is not a direct replacement for opioids in pain management protocols, either.
As part of the study to understand the factors driving cannabis use disorder, researchers analyzed certain data on marijuana use from the 2001-2002 and 2012-2013 “National Epidemiologic Surveys on Alcohol and Related Conditions.” Specifically, they looked at non-medical cannabis use patterns in adults with and without chronic pain issues. About 20% of participants reported experiencing moderate to severe pain.
First, researchers observed a general increase in non-medical marijuana use between the study dates. Furthermore, the 2012-2013 survey revealed significant increases in the likelihood of frequent non-medical cannabis use in people experiencing pain versus people not. Additionally, they reported a similar increased risk of cannabis use disorder in this same group of individuals with chronic pain.
Researchers from the study reflect on their findings by pointing out that the media must improve their reporting of marijuana health benefits. Instead of inflating the potential health benefits associated with cannabis, it might be better served to create fairer messages describing what scientists can agree on based on a robust library of scientific evidence and what still needs to be studied a bit more.