18 June 2022

New research highlights benefits of using medical cannabis to treat chronic pain



  • A newly published peer-reviewed paper reveals patients are mostly using medical cannabis to help with chronic pain conditions 
  • It’s part of Project Twenty 21, a real-world study of medical cannabis patients  
  • Of the 1,782 patients taking part in the project, 949 (54.7%) were using their prescription to manage chronic pain 
  • Researchers say it dispels the myth that medical cannabis patients are young, recreational users

A newly published paper is highlighting the benefits of using medical cannabis to treat debilitating chronic pain conditions. The peer-reviewed research, carried out by Drug Science, shows how most medical cannabis patients are using the drug to manage chronic pain. It’s part of Project Twenty 21, an initiative which is collecting data from patients who receive a medical cannabis prescription, with the aim of studying its safety and effectiveness in real-world settings. 

This latest study shows how out of 1,782 people who had sought treatment, 949 (54.7%) had a primary diagnosis of chronic pain. These patients said they had a low quality of life and high levels of comorbidity, with people reporting an average of over 4 comorbid conditions such as anxiety, insomnia and stress. 

Medical cannabis was legalised in November 2018 and is used to treat a variety of conditions, many of which cause chronic pain such as fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis and endometriosis. In the UK, chronic pain is estimated to affect between one third and half of the adult population. Sufferers are likely to have to deal with other side effects such as altered mood, poor sleep and a marked reduction in their perceived quality of life. 

Researchers say nearly half of the patients surveyed for this latest paper were classified as having severe pain, with over half experiencing severe or extreme problems due to their pain. Their ages ranged widely too from 18 to 84, with an average age of 42. Researchers say this evidence shows the idea that medical cannabis patients are young, recreational users looking for a legal source of the drug can be ‘firmly dispelled’. 

With only a small number of medicines regulated on the NHS, most patients access the drug through private prescriptions. Research like this is vital in terms of improving access for the drug and combating the stigma and misconceptions associated with it. 

Dr Elizabeth Iveson, one of the authors of the paper and a prescribing doctor at The Medical Cannabis Clinics (TMCC) said: “I have seen first-hand how transformative cannabis has been for my patients. No-one should have to suffer when we have the medical means to safely treat them. But too often, I hear from those who need it most that they simply can’t get access. That is why I am proud to be part of a team that is committed to ensuring patients are able to get the treatment they desperately need. Project Twenty 21 is carrying out vital real-world research into the effectiveness of medical cannabis to help improve access. This latest data backs up previous findings in other studies, that chronic pain is the most common condition in the prescription of cannabinoids.” 

48-year-old Loz, from Hackney, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of multiple sclerosis two years ago and is part of Project Twenty 21. She says her medical cannabis prescription has changed her life. She said: “I’d have bad days where I couldn't get out of bed so I’d take high strength co-codamol. I was desperate to live a more functional life, not spend all day in  bed on opiates. Once I received my medical cannabis prescription, it was pretty life-changing. It meant I could cut down on my very strong painkillers. It’s helped massively with my fatigue and tiredness. It’s given me the ability to control and regulate my pain. When you have a chronic illness you don’t have that control, and this has given me that back.” 

Jonathan Nadler, CEO of Lyphe Group, one of the sponsors of the programme said: “We welcome this latest research from Project Twenty 21 which highlights the beneficial role medical cannabis is playing for many chronic pain patients. Sadly, there are many people suffering with this debilitating condition in silence, who are perhaps not aware that medical cannabis can help them. Studies such as this are vital in helping tackle stigma

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