In the ongoing debate over how to solve the opioid crisis, medical cannabis proponents suggest that cannabis could be an alternative to opioid prescriptions following surgical procedures. It makes sense. But now, a new study seems to throw a monkey wrench into the works. The study suggests that surgical pain is worse among cannabis users as compared to non-users.
In fairness, consuming cannabis post-surgery is a far different matter. Post-surgical pain management is about relieving the pain. It has little to no bearing on how much pain a patient experiences as a direct result of surgery. Therein lies the one factor that could make this latest study irrelevant to the argument of managing surgical pain with medical marijuana.
More About the Study
Findings of the study in question were presented at the 2022 American Society of Anesthesiologists annual meeting. Researchers looked at a decade of data spanning January 2010 through December 2020. It involved more than 34,500 adult patients who underwent elective surgery at the Cleveland clinic.
Each patient was asked about pre-surgical cannabis consumption. Just over 1,680 patients reported having consumed cannabis within the previous 30 days. It is a fairly small number compared to the total study size. Furthermore, researchers excluded chronic pain patients and those who received regional anesthesia during their procedures. They also modified the sample with other filters to gain “more nuanced insights” from the study data.
Without getting into details, researchers concluded that the cannabis users reported 14% more pain in the 24 hours immediately following surgery. More alarming was the fact that the same patients consumed 7% more opioid medications than the non-users.
Recommendations Against Cannabis
It is worth noting that anesthesiologists generally recommend against cannabis consumption in advance of a surgical procedure. Their recommendations grow stronger as the date of the surgery grows closer. Anesthesiologists say patients absolutely should not consume cannabis in any form on the day of the procedure itself.
What is all the fuss? Cannabis affects the human endocannabinoid system in many ways. Its effect on the body can influence anesthesiology effectiveness. Even worse, combining cannabis with certain types of anesthesia can lead to serious medical complications.
Anesthesiologists ask about cannabis consumption because their first priority is patient safety. Increased potential for postoperative pain is a secondary concern, but it is a valid concern in light of the fact that consuming more opioids to manage pain increases the chances of opioid addiction.
Wait Until after Surgery
The best advice any surgeon or anesthesiologist can offer a surgical patient is to wait until after surgery to medicate with marijuana. Using it before in hopes of reducing surgical pain or other unpleasant side effects doesn’t seem to work. In fact, it would appear as though it does just the opposite.
Post surgery, medical marijuana does offer significant pain relief to many patients. So much so that Utah state lawmakers introduced a new rule in 2022 allowing certain patients expecting to experience acute pain to choose medical cannabis instead of opioids. Utahmarijuana.org, an organization that helps state residents obtain medical marijuana cards, discusses this very topic on their website.
According to their experts, marijuana can be an effective treatment for both chronic and acute pain. In either case, a patient able to find adequate pain relief from marijuana can choose to not take opioid medications.
If you are scheduled for surgery in the future, think twice about using cannabis in the days leading up to the procedure. Otherwise, the chances are good that your pain will be more severe than it otherwise would have been.