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Italian Patients Say Yes To Marijuana For Chronic Pain

A group of scientists in Italy are pretty convinced that marijuana for chronic pain is a good idea. At least that is what they are saying in a recent study based on patient practices.

While not definitive, the stats were a bit more skewed than they probably anticipated. Before we get to the results, let’s take a step back and appreciate the path that delivered the opportunity.

The story of marijuana for medical purposes in Italy has been interesting but hasn’t always been smooth sailing. Since 2013 some patients in Italy have been allowed to use marijuana for medical purposes for a handful of most serious conditions. But the prices were steep. Because the country had been importing its medical marijuana from the Netherlands, Italian patients could expect to pay as much as $42.50 per gram for a period of time.

A year later, the Italian government announced that medical marijuana would be legally produced by a group they trusted to produce high quality, clean product: the Army. A military base in Florence houses the cannabis farm and a colonel is charged with overseeing its production and protection. They intended to rock the market by producing a substantial amount of marijuana. They planted a measly 135 plants. Still, it’s progress out of prohibition. 

Italian researchers hoped to contribute to that progress by shedding more light on the efficacy of marijuana for chronic pain. Their retrospective study that was the first of its kind examining cannabinoid therapies practiced in Italy. They compared the medical records of a patient population of 659 patients in the city of Pisa living with chronic pain and being treated with oral or vaporized cannabis. Nearly all were on other painkiller medications as well.

Interestingly, the most common method of ingestion was in the form of cannabis tea. The first and following dosages varied a great deal from patient to patient.

What was striking was the percentage of patients who chose to continue cannabis use as part of their pain therapy after one year. Three out of four of those patients (76 percent) continued cannabis use to help alleviate their pain. Less than 15 percent discontinued use due to mild side effects. Those are dramatic results.

The researchers concluded, “From this initial snapshot, we determined that the treatment seems to be effective and safe, although more data and subsequent trials are needed to better investigate its ideal clinical indication”

A review previously conducted at Harvard Medical School examines several studies of the efficacy of cannabis for chronic pain. It found that it’s use “is supported by high-quality evidence” and concluded that, “physicians should educate patients about medical marijuana to ensure that it is used appropriately and that patients will benefit from its use.”

No single study will change hearts and minds. But research begets research, especially when the results are as dramatic as this coming out of Italy. For patients with chronic pain that is a real reason to be hopeful.

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