New York State Department of Health Highlights Publication of Study on the Role of Medical Cannabis for Chronic Pain in Reducing Prescription Opioid Dosages

Multi-Agency Study Conducted by Researchers from the Department of Health, Office of Cannabis Management and CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy

Findings Show Receiving 30 Days or More of Medical Cannabis for Chronic Pain is Associated with Reducing Prescription Opioid Dosages by Up To 51%

ALBANY, N.Y. (January 31, 2023) – The New York State Department of Health today announced that its latest multi-agency study detailing the association of receiving medical cannabis for 30 days or longer with a reduction in prescription opioid dosages has been published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Network Open.

The results of the peer-reviewed study, Changes in Prescribed Opioid Dosages Among Patients Receiving Medical Cannabis for Chronic Pain, New York State, 2017-2019, in combination with existing evidence, show that managing chronic pain with medical cannabis may reduce the opioid burden. This may, in turn, reduce the risk of illicit use and overdose for patients on long-term opioid therapy.

"Medical cannabis is increasingly being used as a treatment in pain management and this peer-reviewed study is further evidence that medical cannabis has the potential to reduce the amount of opioid-based medications needed to treat chronic pain." Acting Health Commissioner Dr. James McDonald said. "I applaud the work done by members of the Department, as well as the Office of Cannabis Management and CUNY. These findings have the potential to further inform health providers and policymakers here in New York as well as in other jurisdictions where medical cannabis is not yet legalized or used to its fullest potential."

In this study, published in the JAMA Network Open's January 30 issue, Department researchers and colleagues from the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy and the New York State Office of Cannabis Management analyzed data for more than eight thousand adult New Yorkers from 2017-2019 and concluded that receiving 30 days or more of medical cannabis for chronic pain is associated with a reduction in dosages of prescription opioids among patients who were on long-term opioid treatment.

The study found that those who were on higher baseline dosages of prescription opioids (when they started receiving medical cannabis) saw a larger reduction in prescription dosages after eight months, upwards of 51 percent for individuals on the highest baseline dosages of prescription opioids.

Lead study author Dr. Trang Nguyen of the Department of Health said, "This study found meaningful reductions among patients receiving medical cannabis for 30 days or longer. Patients' daily opioid dosages were reduced by 47% to 51% of the baseline dosages after 8 months. In contrast, patients receiving medical cannabis for a shorter duration reduced their initial dosages by just 4% to 14%."

Co-author Dr. Danielle Greene of CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy said, "These findings have important implications for clinicians and policy makers. Previous research has shown that abrupt disruption in opioid prescriptions among patients on long-term opioid therapy and high dosages can lead to patients' use of illicit drugs, overdose, and self-harm. Our study suggests a more humane option for achieving lower prescription dosages and potentially reducing those risks. Equitable implementation of these findings will require addressing disparities in both access to medical cannabis due to high cost and the high rate of patients receiving long-term opioid therapy in Medicaid and other programs."

Co-author Nicole Quackenbush of the NYS Office of Cannabis Management said,"Since the inception of the Medical Cannabis Program in New York State, we've heard anecdotal evidence from patients, caregivers and health care providers suggesting that medical cannabis can reduce the amount of opioids patients take to manage pain – and now we have the study demonstrating a statistically and clinically significant reduction for those patients who were on medical cannabis for a longer duration. Research is critical to further our knowledge of the potential risks and benefits of cannabis and the OCM will be continuing efforts to promote cannabis knowledge and research in New York State."

Find a list of nearby practicing medical cannabis practitioners here.

More information about the New York State Office of Cannabis Management medical cannabis program can be found here.

Find more information about CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy here.