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Perceived Effectiveness of Medical Marijuana Among Adults with Chronic Pain: Findings from Interview Data in a Three-Month Pilot Study

Alexandra McMahon
University of Florida

Co-authors: Deepthi Varma1, Hannah Fechtel1, Kimberly Sibille1, Zhigang Li1, Robert L. Cook1, Yan Wang1 1University of Florida

Objective: Patient reported outcomes are critical to evaluate effectiveness of medical marijuana (MM) as a potential alternative treatment for chronic pain. The study objective was to examine overall perceived effectiveness of medical marijuana among middle-aged and older adults who were newly initiating MM for chronic pain management.

Methods: Interview data from participants in a three-month prospective pilot study on MM’s impact on chronic pain and related outcomes were analyzed to assess perceived effectiveness of MM. Participants answered an open-ended question “Overall how effective do you think the MM treatment is for your condition?” in a phone interview approximately one month after baseline, when participants were supposed to find a regimen with a relatively stable dose after self-titration. All responses were transcribed and analyzed using the RADaR (Rigorous and Accelerated Data Reduction) technique.

Results: 51 adults initiating MM for chronic pain were interviewed (52.9% male, mean age 54.4, SD = 12.0), with the majority (80.3%) identifying as Non-Hispanic White followed by Non-Hispanic Black (13.7%), Multi-racial (3.9%), and Hispanic White (2.0%). Most participants (62.7%) reported MM was effective for pain reduction. The common benefits mentioned included reduction in pain intensity, improved sleep quality, and reduced need for pain and psychiatric medications. Participants also mentioned improvements in mental wellbeing such as better mood, improved focus, and less anxiety, and improvements in physical mobility. Common challenges or concerns mentioned by participants included difficulty finding a suitable product or dose (e.g., could not find the ‘sweet spot’), and experiencing side effects such as ‘undesired high’, ‘stomach issues’, and a limited ‘threshold of pain’ treatable by product.

Discussion: Findings suggest a majority of participants perceived MM to be effective overall for chronic pain management, with improved physical and mental functioning and reduction in other medications as commonly cited benefits. However, sides effects and difficulty in identifying proper product and dosage also warrant future investigation as MM becomes a more prevalent treatment option for chronic pain.

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