New Report Examines Cannabis, Opioids and Chronic Pain Treatment Media Biases

Chronic pain is one of the leading reasons that the press discusses as a supporting reason to use medical marijuana, and the same narrative is even discussed amongst medical professionals that support it. In New Zealand, researchers recently found the possibility of a bias amongst media outlets that focus more on the use of cannabis as a safe solution, while opioids are highlighted as the opposite.

Opioids and Cannabis Get Attention from New Zealand Media Reports as Chronic Pain Solution

  • Researchers evaluated news articles from January 2015 to June 2019 to collect their data.
  • Limited information was published by the media on resources to handle chronic pain, particularly without pharmaceutical intervention.

The attention on the cannabis world is expanding across the globe, as researchers examine the way to use it medically. Reports in New Zealand are now highlighting ways to treat chronic pain with opioids and cannabis, as opposed to the non-drug treatments, according to EurekAlert. Chronic pain is specific to pain that lasts for more than three months continually, and approximately 20% of New Zealanders are impacted. Around the world, chronic pain is considered the leading cause of disability.

Researchers in New Zealand examined chronic pain in 240 news articles that were published by local media from January 2015 to June 2019. The findings are available in the most recent issue of the New Zealand Medical Journal, showing Dr. Hemakumar Devan as the lead author.

Dr. Devan, who is a Postdoctoral fellow at the Centre for Health, Activity and Rehabilitation Research at the University of Otago, Wellington's School of Physiotherapy, remarked that non-pharmaceutical treatments for chronic pain were included in few news stories. Interestingly, non-pharmaceutical treatments are preferred as the way to handle the majority of conditions involving chronic pain. Dr. Devan stated,

“Pharmacological strategies are only recommended for some chronic pain conditions, such as cancer pain and neuropathic pain. For other pain conditions, drug treatments are recommended to be used with care and caution because of potential side effects and limited long-term effectiveness.”

Most of the attention from the media on the pharmaceutical solutions for chronic pain centers on two main treatments, cannabis and opioid-based medications. Stories that described the use of opioids for chronic pain often described the way that they were ineffective in handling this pain, as well as how likely it was for patients to become dependent or addicted to them.

Medicinal cannabis, on the other hand, is touted by the media as the safe way to soothe pain, offering fairly limited side effects. The media outlets seem to be unbothered by the lack of scientific evidence that is presently available to support claims of chronic pain reduction. Dr. Devan said,

“The personal experience stories about cannabis focused on its positive effects and fewer side effects compared to opioid-based analgesics. There is, however, limited evidence to suggest cannabis as a substitute for opioids and a lack of high-quality evidence to support the use of cannabis for chronic pain.”

“There was no reporting on the potential adverse effects of medicinal cannabis use, such as cognitive deficits, dependency and mood changes, which could particularly affect young people.”

As far as chronic pain itself, the researchers discovered that much of the attention was on the struggle that individuals go through as they live with this problem. However, there’s rather limited information or attention placed on the resources that people can turn to for pain management, while leading a successful life. Methods for dealing with chronic pain without any type of drug are necessary for treating the body naturally, and often include exercise and relaxation, among other methods.

Much of the difficulties that patients come up against as they seek out solutions for their pain arise as a result of the lack of health professionals trained in non-pharmaceutical solutions. While media coverage seemed to be deficient in this information, the details that are actually publicized are accurate, and interest in chronic pain has gone up through the years.

Dr. Devan noted that, considering this increased interest, media guidelines may need to be implemented regarding chronic pain. He added,

“We expect this will continue to rise, with chronic pain becoming increasingly relevant in the lead up to New Zealand's 2020 cannabis referendum; and as the number of people living with chronic pain increases as the population ages.”

In a day in age where CBD became the top selling natural herbal ingredient in 2019, and its main health benefit was associated with pain relief, it will be interesting to see how cannabis and marijuana components can help lessen the life-altering, often deadly side effects the opioid crisis is causing in today's world. While the barriers for more scientific research to be conducted on cannabis' ability to help with chronic pain issues and conditions are slowly coming down, right now the enthusiasm for CBD and cannabis constituents is outpacing the evidence. HealthMJ will keep tabs on the latest studies and research and be sure to summarize it as fast, pure and clean as possible like always.

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