For my last column, Is There a Hidden Drug Abuse Problem Among Pulmonary Hypertension Patients?, I spoke to several pulmonary hypertension patients who use prescribed pain killers to help manage pain. Sarah and Lindsay shared that they began to abuse their prescribed painkillers within the last year. Both admitted that they knew other patients who were also abusing prescribed opioids. However, Jessica said that her use of prescribed pain killers, taken as directed, helps her with mobility and her ability to maintain her career.
Even when prescribed, painkiller abuse can pose a threat to many patients. Users can build a tolerance to their current dose, causing them to need more in order to get the same effect. Those with a history of addition or depression may also be prone to abuse the medications. Pulmonary hypertension is a very difficult diagnosis to cope with, sometimes causing depression. With all these things considered, it is possible that some pulmonary hypertension patients may be vulnerable.
In the previous column installment, all of the patients said they favor having medical cannabis available to them and other PH patients manage chronic pain. While the inhalation of smoke is not recommended, there are other methods to consume medical cannabis, such as oils and edibles.
A study conducted across seven pain management centers in Canada concluded that the use of medical cannabis for the treatment of chronic pain is mostly safe. Medical cannabis for chronic pain showed no difference in terms of serious side-effects between test patients and those in the control group who were not using cannabis. That includes the need for hospitalization, or even death. Researches also measured changes in pain, mood, and quality of life. Although both of the groups (that included patients with arthritis, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, and spinal cord injury) improved over time, the cannabis users improved much more. Conventional pain therapies had not been effective in either control groups.
Neurological assessments showed that cannabis users had no adverse effects in cognitive function. Patients also showed no signs of damage to kidney, liver, or hormone function. Pulmonary function tests did show that those in the cannabis group had some restriction in lung function after a year, but it was difficult for researches to separate the effects of tobacco use from medical use in patients who used both.
If proven safe in pulmonary hypertension patients, medical cannabis could provide a less addictive pain management option for patients. Medical cannabis might also cause fewer side effects and long-term damage, such as kidney failure which is associated with opioid use. There have been few direct studies on the effects of medical cannabis for pulmonary hypertension patients. Some pulmonary hypertension patients have access to medical cannabis, depending on the laws where they live and choices that are made between the patient and their medical team.
I spoke to two patients who currently use, or have used, medical cannabis and typically prescribed drugs for chronic pain. They shared their experiences.
Kelly is a young adult living with pulmonary hypertension in Canada, where medical cannabis is legal. Kelly has used Percocet for four years, which she says is fast acting to help manage her pain. Unfortunately, she found that the pain-killer makes her depressed. She also noticed that it caused brain fog, is addictive, and that she was able to build a tolerance to the dosing quickly. She also uses a cannabidiol (CBD) pill for pain management, which is non-psychoactive because of its low THC content. Although Kelly says that the CBD pill isn’t as strong as pain killers like Percocet, it doesn’t cause the brain fog or depression that she experiences with Percocet. As someone who has benefited from using CBD for pain, Kelly believes that everyone should have access to it as needed.
Kelly has a history of addiction, which is one of the reasons she received access to medical cannabis. To help avoid finding herself in a situation where she could become addicted to opiates, she turned to medical cannabis, which is believed to be non-addictive. Kelly said it is easy to imagine why some pulmonary hypertension patients abuse prescribed pain killers. She says, “it’s a slippery slope when dealing with something as devastating as PH.”
Beth* is a pulmonary hypertension patient in her 30s who used to have access to medical cannabis to help treat her pain until she moved to a state where medical cannabis is not legal. She credits medical cannabis for allowing her to function with less pain. Beth tries to avoid using pain killers unless she finds them necessary, such as for a medical procedure. Traditional pain killers made Beth feel sluggish, nauseous, and unmotivated. She shared that a member of her family is addicted to drugs, which is another reason she tries not to become drug dependent. Beth says: “unlike medications such as fentanyl and dilaudid, marijuana has allowed me to function with less pain.”
While there is little literature available about medical cannabis for pulmonary hypertension patients, we had the chance to hear from two patients who benefited from it. If proven safe for pulmonary hypertension patients, medical cannabis could be a less potentially addictive option with fewer side effects. However, it is important to note that inhaling smoke is not recommended for patients with lung diseases and that there are other options for consuming medical cannabis, such as pills, oils, and edibles. Different strains cause little to no high, and manage pain differently. We do not suggest the use of cannabis, unless it has been legally prescribed by your doctor. It is important to treat medical cannabis with the same amount of caution used in other prescribed medications. Please be sure to discuss your options with your specialist and pain management team.
Do you think medical cannabis could be another option for treating chronic pain in pulmonary hypertension patients?
* Names have been changed.
Note: Pulmonary Hypertension News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this blog article are not those of Pulmonary Hypertension News, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to the disease..