A study in South Africa is investigating the effectiveness of cannabis as an alternative to opioids for chronic pain management. Participants receive free cannabis medication for a year.
Of course, they must first prove that these people suffer from chronic pain, defined as pain that lasts longer than six months. The results of this clinical trial with some 300 participants are expected at the end of 2023.
Cannabis Master Plan
The Cannabis Research Institute of South Africa (CRI) is sponsoring for a year research which it hopes will provide credible, reliable and verifiable data on medical cannabis. Since the 2018 Constitutional Court ruling decriminalizing the personal use of cannabis, the private sector has plunged into South Africa's "green rush". The government's Cannabis Master Plan aims to industrialize the plant and create more than 25.000 jobs.
Legislation, in the form of the Private Use Cannabis Act currently in parliament, is progressing slowly, leaving more unanswered questions about the recreational and medicinal use of the plant.
The use of cannabis as a medicine is legalized in most US states, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and much of Europe and South America. Although the use of the plant is legal in South Africa, the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) has not yet approved any cannabis-infused medicines for pain relief.
Opioids, such as morphine, fentanyl and tramadol, remain the most common treatment for pain. They are also highly addictive and, due to their pharmacological effects, can cause breathing difficulties if overdosed, resulting in death.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 70% of the estimated 500.000 global drug-related deaths are opioid-related. According to a study authored by members of the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC), South Africa has seen a sharp increase in opioid treatments over the past decade.
“Chronic pain is defined as pain that persists for more than six months and can be categorized as visceral, somatic, and neurogenic. Given its broad spectrum, a wide variety of treatments exist, from over-the-counter medications to opiates such as morphine, oxycodone or codeine, that instruct the body's natural opioid receptors to stop the nerves responsible for pain from signaling," stated dr. Shiksha Gallow, the lead researcher on the study.
“Opiates are associated with a plethora of side effects, including sedation, respiratory depression – and even death. With the global increase in opiate addiction, which has far-reaching consequences from ill health to wider societal problems such as crime, research will focus on finding a safer alternative to the treatment of pain.”
There has been an increase in studies focusing on replacing opioids with cannabis for the treatment of chronic pain, with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noting that “a few studies have shown that marijuana may be helpful in the treatment of neuropathic pain, a specific type of chronic pain caused by damaged nerves.” The CDC adds that “more research is needed to know if marijuana works better than other options for pain management.
The participants in the trial will have access to medical cannabis for a year. That will keep them on the medication until it becomes possible to come off opioids.
All patients participating in the study must prove that they suffer from chronic pain. These patients typically have diseases or conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, fibromuscular disease, osteoarthritis, or even cancer-related conditions. The South African Ministry of Health and SAMRC have approved the clinical trial.
Source: businessinsider.co.za (EN)