Using cannabis after surgery actually increases pain, study warns

NEW ORLEANS — Cannabis use actually increases pain after undergoing surgery, a new investigation reveals.

Researchers found that cannabis users experienced 14 percent more pain in the first 24 hours after surgery, versus those who never used the drug. Those using marijuana also consumed seven percent more opioids after surgery.

Despite cannabis being a common method of chronic pain relief, researchers believe the increase in pain users experiences after surgery was likely due to increased opioid use.

Study authors recommend that doctors take this new research into account when assessing patients’ pain relief after surgery, potentially prescribing more opioids to those who use cannabis. The team also advocated physicians explore a “multimodal approach” to post operative pain relief.

There was limited data on cannabis’ effect post-surgery until this research was presented at the Anesthesiology 2022 annual meeting.

Cannabis is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States and increasingly used as an alternative treatment for chronic pain, but there is limited data that shows how it affects patient outcomes after surgery,” says Elyad Ekrami, M.D., lead author of the study and clinical research fellow of the Outcomes Research Department at Cleveland Clinic’s Anesthesiology Institute, in a media release.

“Our study shows that adults who use cannabis are having more — not less — postoperative pain. Consequently, they have higher opioid consumption after surgery.”

Do chronic pain sufferers experience the same effects?

The team analyzed records from 34,521 adult patients who had elective surgeries at Cleveland Clinic from January 2010 to December 2020. Out of that group, 1,681 were cannabis users who had used the drug within 30 days before surgery. Dr. Ekrami emphasizes that the study did not include patients with chronic pain diagnoses.

“The association between cannabis use, pain scores and opioid consumption has been reported before in smaller studies, but they’ve had conflicting results,” Dr. Ekrami adds.

“Our study has a much larger sample size and does not include patients with chronic pain diagnosis or those who received regional anesthesia, which would have seriously conflicted our results. Furthermore, our study groups were balanced by confounding factors including age, sex, tobacco and other illicit drug use, as well as depression and psychological disorders.”

“Physicians should consider that patients using cannabis may have more pain and require slightly higher doses of opioids after surgery, emphasizing the need to continue exploring a multimodal approach to post-surgical pain control,” the researcher concludes.

South West News Service writer Pol Allingham contributed to this report.

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