Chronic Pain Associated With Increased Cannabis Use and Adverse Effects Among Young Adults

Nonmedical cannabis use is on this rise in adults suffering from pain, despite evidence demonstrating negative clinical outcomes. Researchers investigated the relationship between cannabis use, adverse consequences, and chronic pain in a US-based cohort of young adults aged 18–25 years.

  • The sample of 403 young adults reported a mean cannabis use of 47 days in the prior 90 days; of this sample, 20 percent reported chronic pain.
  • Participants with chronic pain used cannabis at significantly greater frequency (incident rate ratio [IRR], 1.35), intensity (IRR, 1.61), and reported more negative consequences (IRR, 1.23), compared with those without chronic pain.

Comments: This study contributes to a growing body of evidence that young people with chronic pain have increased cannabis use compared with their peers and experience more adverse effects. Youth are neuro-developmentally vulnerable to cannabis’s effects, with brain maturation occurring through the mid-twenties. Cultural messages that promote cannabis as a “medication” appear to be drowning out accurate information about the risks of use for this age group. Given the implications, young adults should be advised of non-cannabis alternatives to mitigate chronic pain.

Emily Nields, DO

Reference: Hayaki J, Abrantes AM, Anderson B, Stein MD. Chronic pain and cannabis use frequency, intensity, and severity in young adults. Subst Use Misuse. 2024;59(4):576–582.

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