MIAMI – Oct. 21, 2014 – As Floridians get set to hit the polls on Nov. 4 and decide the fate of legalizing medical marijuana in this state, another debate is brewing: do the benefits of medical marijuana to treat chronic pain outweigh the risks?
According to a recent survey conducted online in October by Harris Poll on behalf of Miami Jewish Health Systems among over 2,000 adults, two out of three Americans – some 68% – believe that yes, the benefits of using medical marijuana to treat pain outweigh the risks. But according to Dr. Fernando Branco, Medical Director of the Rosomoff Comprehensive Rehabilitation Center at Miami Jewish Health Systems, who treats patients that have complex and chronic pain – including amputees and patients with spinal cord injuries – the public is misinformed.
“While I’m not surprised by the results of the survey, I’m disappointed because I believe that the public has been misled about the effectiveness of medical marijuana to treat pain,” says Dr. Branco. “There are yet to be meaningful scientific findings to support the claim that marijuana reduces pain significantly.”
While Dr. Branco acknowledges that marijuana can be effective to treat nausea in cancer/AIDS patients, and there is some evidence on the treatment of seizures, he does not support using marijuana to treat pain because there are risks involved. Physical and psychological dependency are common with chronic use of marijuana, says Dr. Branco, and the possibility of drug addiction is high. There are also cognitive changes with acute and chronic use of marijuana and, if used daily, no driving would be allowed and work would be impossible, he maintains.
“The use of marijuana for pain would be similar to alcohol use,” Dr. Branco adds. “Some patients will say that alcohol helps them ‘forget’ their pain, but it does not mean I would be in favor of alcohol use to treat pain. Our goal is to treat the cause behind the pain – to alleviate or eliminate it, and reduce our patients’ dependency on any medication. Medical marijuana isn’t the answer. Through our various inpatient and outpatient treatments, we work to get our patients pain-free and drug-free.”
When looking at age groups, those between the ages of 55-64 (74%) are more likely to agree with the statement “the benefits of using medical marijuana to treat pain outweigh the risks” than those age 45-54 (63%) and those age 65+ (59%). Men and women feel the same way, with 68% of men stating the benefits of marijuana to treat pain outweigh the risks and 69% of females indicating this.
This survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Poll on behalf of Miami Jewish Health Systems from October 8-10, 2014 among 2,060 adults ages 18 and older. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables, please contact Christine Bucan at 305.929.9723.