A new study claims marijuana users might experience more pain following surgery. The research was presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Anesthesiologists on Sunday, where researchers expanded on their findings and shared that marijuana users required more prescription drugs when compared to non-users.
The study was conducted with the data of more than 34,000 people who had surgery at the Cleveland Clinic. Within 30 days of surgery, over 1,700 patients had used marijuana.
These patients required more medication in order to remain asleep during their surgery, and had different brain waves, vital signs, and breathing patterns when compared to non-users.
“It’s not an enormous amount of additional pain compared to non-users, we found, but we can’t say don’t worry about it because it’s not too much,” said Dr. Elyad Ekrami, the lead researcher of the study. “They needed more opioids to cure their pain, so this is something that is meaningful.”
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The study showed that marijuana users experienced 14% more pain during their first hours after surgery. This meant that they also consumed more opioids, approximately 7% more when compared to non-users. While researchers don’t understand why marijuana is affecting people’s pain responses, they have a few theories.
Ekrami shared that marijuana is known to affect pain receptors — in the case of frequent users, this means that the drug could be desensitizing them, making them more likely to experience pain and demand opioids. They also think that marijuana users might be using the drug to treat anxiety, which could then increase their pain reactions.
Still, not enough evidence is known on the matter, making it difficult for experts to provide marijuana users with a recommendation. Dr. Shalini Shah, chief of pain medicine at the University of California, Irvine, recommends patients to be drastically honest with their doctors, sharing the drugs they take prior to surgery. “Really have a frank conversation about, ‘Hey, what are my risks? What’s the best evidence? What should I do prior to surgery so I can have a healthy recovery?’” she said.
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While the results have yet to be published, the study makes it even more pressing for researchers to have the necessary permits that would allow them to test the drug fully and provide users with accurate information.