Study Finds Marijuana Reduces Pain, but Worsens Self-Care

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The 1998 comedy “The Big Lebowski” has a cult-like status as a stoner film, largely because of the way Jeff Bridges portrays a weed-smoking slacker who has no job, can’t pay the rent and spends half the movie in a bathroom robe. The Dude abides life at his own pace.

A new study may have inadvertently reinforced some of that stoner stigma, finding that marijuana use reduces pain but significantly worsens patient “self-care” – a broad category that includes behavior such as motivation, physical activity and appearance.

The study involved 181 pain patients enrolled in Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program, who used marijuana for eight weeks and regularly completed surveys on its effects.

The study findings, recently published in the journal Medical Cannabis and Cannabinoids, showed that participants reported significant improvement in their pain and anxiety, and a small improvement in quality of life. But there was a caveat.

“One sees that the improvements to the pain and anxiety dimensions are tempered by a decline in the area of self-care. This is important because the side effect profile of cannabis may be diminishing the improvement in (quality of life),” wrote lead author Andrew Peterson, PharmD, University of the Sciences in Philadelphia. “A review of the literature found no other study connecting the use of marijuana with declines in self-care in pain patients using MM (medical marijuana).”

The study did not look at the doses used by participants, but since all products in Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program contain some level of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – the psychoactive substance in marijuana – researchers believe there might be a connection. They said further studies were needed to see if there’s a relationship between THC, self-care and quality of life.

“There are many sources describing the negative consequences of marijuana,” Peterson wrote. “Given that our study found a decline in self-care among pain patients using MM (medical marijuana), it would be of interest to learn what aspects of self-care change when using MM for pain.”

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, some of the negative consequences of marijuana use include changes in mood, difficulty with thinking and problem-solving, impaired memory and an altered sense of time.  

 
 
 
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