Researchers from the University of New Mexico (UNM) say they can prove that cannabis is an effective pain treatment. Specifically, on average, patients experience a three-point drop in their pain level on the 0-10 point pain scale just after consuming cannabis.

“Perhaps the most surprising result is just how widespread relief was with symptom relief reported in about 95 percent of cannabis administration sessions and across a wide variety of different types of pain,” lead study author, Xiaoxue Li, reported in press materials from UNM.

To access the data for the work, the scientists turned to Releaf. Releaf, created by study co-authors, is an app that helps medical marijuana patients track their medical cannabis use, symptoms, and progress. It is the biggest real-time database reflecting how people are using cannabis products in the US.

Cannabis and Releaf

An ongoing opioid epidemic and few safe, effective alternatives for pain are a tremendous problem. More than 20 percent of American adults suffer from chronic pain. In fact, Americans spend more treating chronic pain than they do treating heart disease and cancer combined.

The development team released Releaf in 2016. Since that time, it has been the only free, publicly available app for medical marijuana patient education.

Releaf has already been in use in dispensaries as budtenders seek to advise patients about strains, cannabis subspecies, combustion methods, types of products, and symptom relief. Now, scientists are turning to its crowdsourced data to help predict clinical outcomes.

Cannabis and Schedule I status

These findings fly in the face of the current Schedule I status the federal government persists in attaching to cannabis. (This status means that cannabis has “no accepted medical use,” despite this evidence that cannabis is an effective pain treatment.)

“When compared to the negative health risks associated with opioid use, which currently takes the lives of over 115 Americans a day, cannabis may be an obvious value to patients,” Jacob Miguel Vigil, one of the lead investigators of the study, commented in the press materials. “Chronic opioid use is associated with poorer quality of life, social isolation, lower immune functioning and early morbidity. In contrast, my own ongoing research increasingly suggests that cannabis use is associated with a reversal of each of these potential outcomes.”

Interestingly, the researchers also confirmed that cannabis alleviates pain via multiple mechanisms, including by activating brain receptors near opioid receptors in the brain. The result is that the higher levels of THC in some strains of cannabis more effectively elevate mood and distract patients from pain sensations.

The research was less clear about specific effects of other isolated cannabinoids such as CBD and CBN. However, the Releaf app does allow patients to record that type of data.