The opioid crisis is arguably the biggest healthcare emergency affecting the United States. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 130 people die of an opioid overdose every day. Last year, that number was 91. For the first time ever, opiates are killing more Americans than motor vehicle accidents or gun violence. The situation has gotten so bad that opiates are now lowering U.S. citizens’ life expectancy rates. One would hope that, given the dangers, opiates would provide patients long-term and effective pain relief but research suggests otherwise. The good news is that a growing number of studies are showing that medical cannabis, a non-opiate pain-relieving medication, is an effective and safe treatment for chronic pain and substitute for opiates. Let’s take a look at 5 ways that medical cannabis, also known as medical marijuana, can help to alleviate the damage of the current opiate crisis.
Medical cannabis provides safe and effective pain relief. There have been more than 45 studies looking into medical cannabis and how it affects pain in various chronic illnesses and diseases such as Parkinson’s, Fibromyalgia, Multiple Sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis. The overwhelming majority of these studies showed an improvement in pain relief when compared to a placebo or other traditional pain relief methods. This is because the cannabinoids THC and CBD have analgesic properties which block pain signals in the body’s nervous system. This is especially true when THC and CBD are combined and used together due to their corresponding chemical synergy. Perhaps just as importantly, medical cannabis is non-toxic and is not associated with negative damaging side effects. Unlike opiates, cannabis has never been associated with any documented overdose deaths.
Medical cannabis reduces opiate use. Medical researchers at the University of Michigan studied the effects that cannabis had on chronic pain patients. In their study, published in the Journal of Pain, they found that cannabis reduced the use of opioids by an average of 64%. Additionally, they stated that cannabis aided patients by alleviating the side effects of other medications and improved their overall quality of life. This article is supported by numerous other studies which have found that patients greatly reduce the number of opiates they take and often stop using opiates completely when given access to medical cannabis
Cannabis helps prevent opiate deaths. The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published a study that took a look at the opioid crisis and the various attempts made across the United States to intervene and how many deaths these interventions were able to prevent. What they concluded was that patient monitoring efforts had no effect on decreasing opioid deaths nor did increasing the oversight of pain management clinics. What they did find was that when a state passed a law on cannabis legalization the rate of opiate deaths dropped by 24.8 percent. This could be because when patients had legal access to medical cannabis they were able to both enhance the efficiency of their opiates and use less and in many cases medical cannabis met the patients’ pain needs directly-removing the need to use opiates completely.
Cannabis helps ease opiate withdrawals. In addition to reducing the amount of opiates needed for pain relief and in many cases reducing the need for opiates completely, cannabis is very effective for treating the symptoms associated with opiate withdrawals. Symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramping, anxiety, muscle spasms, depression, and insomnia have all been proven to be relieved by the cannabinoids THC and CBD found in medical cannabis.
Medical cannabis reduces the risk of relapse. Some of the biggest triggers for a relapse are mood related. Anxiety and depression are often experienced after a patient stops using opiates and often patients find that they cannot deal with the mood changes and relapse. Medical research using both animal and human studies are showing that the cannabinoid known as CBD is effective at reducing the cravings associated with opiate withdrawal while also decreasing feelings of anxiety and depression. Some preclinical data is also suggesting that CBD inhibits the reward-inducing effect created by opioids, disrupting the cues that reinforce addiction and lead to relapse. Cannabis is reward-inducing in the sense that it can produce positive feelings and create a sensation of mood elevation. It can be used as a tool to help moods return to a more normal level, reducing feelings of increased anxiety or depression which could otherwise lead to a relapse.
With the opioid crisis worsening every year, finding a safe and effective solution is an urgent matter. Medical cannabis is the perfect substitute for opiates due to its proven analgesic properties and it’s record of safety. Additionally, medical cannabis can help with the symptoms of opiate withdrawals and reduce the risk of relapse. Medical cannabis is not the “gateway drug” that it was vilified to be. On the contrary, medical research is showing that cannabis taken at appropriate doses and under the supervision of a medical cannabis professional, can serve as an “exit drug” and help patients overcome the suffering that comes with pain, withdrawals, and addiction.