New study into therapeutic cannabis finds 96pct of participants report benefits in medical conditions

The study canvassed 213 people who were taking cannabis for therapeutic reasons.
The study canvassed 213 people who were taking cannabis for therapeutic reasons. Photo credit: Getty Images

A new study into the therapeutic benefits of cannabis has found almost 96 percent of participants reported it helping with a number of medical conditions. 

The study between researchers at the University of Otago, Victoria University and the University of Auckland canvassed 213 people who were taking cannabis for therapeutic reasons. 

It aimed to find what people's experiences of taking cannabis therapeutically were and collect data on the quality, efficacy and effects the drug had on them. 

It found almost 96 percent of participants' medical conditions improved from therapeutic cannabis and 46 percent said they had been able to reduce or entirely stop their medical prescription. 

The study found the most common themes for therapeutic cannabis efficacy were pain management with 96 percent of participants reporting cannabis helped. 

It found cannabis also helped 97 percent of participants with difficulty sleeping and 98 percent with mental health issues.

"Of the participants who took cannabis for other reasons, such as autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and difficulty eating, 98 per cent found taking cannabis helped."

Dunedin School of Medicine’s bioethics department, study co-author Dr Geoff Noller said the study reflects several other studies in Aotearoa that therapeutic cannabis had a positive effect on pain relief, sleeplessness and anxiety. 

Dr Noller said an important finding in the study was some participants either decreased or stopped their prescribed medicines, many of which were opioid-based.

"This both reinforces that they experienced some actual effect from using cannabis in that they ceased or decreased other medications with recognised efficacy, and in the case of many of these other medications, they reduced their use of potentially more problematic medications. Opioids, for example, have well-known issues in terms of dependence and other negative side effects," Dr Noller said. 

Dr Noller said he and his fellow researchers aren't suggesting prescribed medicines shouldn't be used or there should an either-or decision, but that there is space for prescribed medicines and cannabis products following "the results of this study suggesting that cannabis products could have a role in treating patients with chronic pain and other conditions refractory to treatment by conventional means".

Dr Noller said the majority of participants were sourcing cannabis through illicit means "due to barriers of sourcing legally".

"At present, current regulations (both for medicinal cannabis and drug checking) appear to be creating problems for many New Zealanders who otherwise report positive benefits from their use of medicinal cannabis," he said. 

"Specific barriers include cost, with currently available medicinal cannabis products being too expensive for many New Zealanders due to the compliance costs of production imposed by regulations, and also the lack of knowledge about it for physicians, leading to a reluctance to prescribe, in many cases."