A federal health agency is asking for the public’s help with classifying studies that delve into the potential advantages and detriments of using marijuana rather than opioids for chronic pain treatment.
In three separate notices published in the Federal Register on Tuesday, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) said it is in the process of going over existing research on chronic pain—particularly alternatives to opioid-based painkillers—and called for “supplemental evidence and data submissions” from the public. The agency gave guidelines for exactly what it desired for acquisition. One notice suggested studies on the “comparative effectiveness” of using non-opioid therapies, “including marijuana,” instead of opioids. These studies should include differences in “outcomes related to pain, function, and quality of life.” The filing also includes a prompt for evidence about utilizing cannabis along with opioids, in addition to how the detriments of the prescription pain medications vary for patients that utilize marijuana. In another notice, AHRQ, a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, stated that they want help completing their review of non-invasive and non-pharmacologic chronic pain treatments such as exercise, mindfulness, acupuncture—and of course, medical marijuana. The request highlighted that the agency will accept research on “any formulation” of cannabis.
Lastly, a third notice included marijuana in a list of non-opioid pharmacologic treatment options that AHRQ expressed interest in exploring. The public was asked to submit studies and data on the risk of “overdose, misuse, dependence, withdrawals due to adverse events, and serious adverse events” for medical cannabis, in addition to conventional oral and topical treatments.
All in all, the package of solicitations shows that while marijuana remains a Schedule I drug (meaning it is not recognized by the federal government for having any medical value), there are federal agencies that are urged by the prospect that cannabis adequately treats pain without the risks raised by opioids.
There are a number of studies that AHRQ may want to take into consideration. For example, there are surveys that show patients use marijuana regularly in place of opioid painkillers and other pharmaceuticals, and several other comprehensive studies detailing that states with legal cannabis access have lower opioid overdose rates and have fewer opioid prescriptions compared to states that are not legal. April 18 is the deadline to submit studies and data for all of the new notices. These are the latest in a series of notices that AHRQ and other federal agencies have recently published. Last year, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health hosted a workshop that specifically addressed blockades to cannabis research while the substance remains prohibited federally.