Are NSAIDS More of a Pain Than They’re Worth?

By J.J. McCoy, Senior Managing Editor, New Frontier Data

The Buzz:

Provocative new findings reported by 20 international co-authors of an article in Science Translational Medicine suggests that reducing pain inflammation in the short term may actually lead to chronic pain over the long term. Chronic pain afflicts up to 50 million Americans, and is commonly believed to be exacerbated by inflammation.

In a nutshell, the study found that use of NSAIDs dulls the body’s natural inflammatory immune response and the production of neutrophils, which are suspected to resolve pain in the long term.

Following “three fairly convincing lines of evidence” (including bioinformatics, animal, and human cohort studies), the study suggests that excessively combating inflammation and acute pain hinders bodily healing, thus keeping pain present longer. If the findings are confirmed through randomized clinical trials, they would implicate non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory (NSAID) medications including aspirin and ibuprofen for causing chronic pain. Other analgesics like acetaminophen, gabapentin, lidocaine, and morphine did not cause the same disruption in the biological process, so were not associated with chronic pain.

The Takeaway:

“This could be big for medical cannabis,” explains Molly McCann, Ed.D., Director of Industry Analytics for New Frontier Data. “NSAIDs are among the most frequently and commonly used drugs, and the public generally sees them as safe. In attempting to reduce the prescribing of opiate medications, the CDC has advised doctors to instead recommend use of NSAIDs to chronic pain patients. If it turns out that they actually worsen long-term outcomes for pain, patients and doctors may seek out alternative treatments en masse.”

More than 107,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2021, with 80,816 dying from opioid overdoses alone. New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that since 2001 more than 1 million Americans have died by drug overdoses.

Pain management ranks among consumers’ leading reasons for cannabis use: As tracked in the Cannabis Consumer Dashboard of New Frontier Data’s Equio business intelligence platform, 15% of current consumers name pain management as their primary goal for using cannabis.

Overall, 47% of current consumers name pain management among their top reasons for using cannabis, and consumers who use cannabis medically report overwhelmingly positive outcomes.

Doctors’ roles in educating and communicating to consumers will also be crucial, specifically in the expansion of cannabis use as an analgesic. Among Americans who are not cannabis consumers, the leading reasons they would consider trying it are if their doctors recommended it (39%), or if they became ill with a condition which could be helped by medical cannabis (37%).