Solving the Opiate Crisis with Medical Cannabis

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Our country is currently plagued by the serious issue that is opiate addiction. Each day, an average of 78 people die from an opioid overdose (USDHHS, 2016). Even scarier, the rate of opiate use and abuse does not appear to be diminishing. In fact, opiate prescriptions are being written at four times the rate they were in 1999 (CDC, 2017). The year 2004 alone saw opiate death tolls rising to 19,000. With statistics like these, it’s no wonder that our lawmakers are scrambling to find an answer to this crisis. Fortunately, medical cannabis has shown to be an effective solution to the opioid epidemic. Studies on medical cannabis are showing that not only is it safer and far more effective at pain relief than opiates, but it can treat addiction and withdrawal symptoms as well.

In order to begin to treat an opiate addiction, it is vital to understand the cyclic nature of its symptoms. Opiates engage the brain’s reward pathways by producing a sensation of euphoria and pleasure. Over time, the brain’s sensitivity to the drug begins to decrease and more of the drug is needed to produce the same effects. After a while, stopping the drug will lead to an induction of withdrawal symptoms such as increased pain, anxiety, depression, and restlessness. These symptoms can become so unbearable that they often lead a person to re-administer the opiate, leading to the inevitable relapse.

While the cycle of addiction can be difficult to overcome, it is not impossible. Research has shown that Cannabidiol, also known as CBD, is very effective in providing relief for the symptoms of withdrawal (Hurd, et al., 2015). A recent study on Cannabidiol as a treatment for addiction shows that CBD is not addictive and works to help fight opiate cravings. These researchers stated that CBD “appears to have low reinforcing properties with limited abuse potential and to inhibit drug-seeking behavior” (Hurd, et al., 2015). CBD can help to alleviate withdrawal by treating pain, anxiety, and regulating mood swings.

Addiction aside, one of the main problems with opiate use is that as the tolerance of pain medication increases, so does the risk of death by overdose. Fortunately, medical cannabis is showing to help combat these risks. In states with legal cannabis use, the rate of deaths attributed to opiate overdose has already shown a decrease of 25% (Bachhuber, M A, et al., 2014). Unlike pharmaceuticals, medical cannabis is not a neurological or respiratory depressant; cannabis won’t stop your breathing or your heart. Research is also showing that a medical protocol of high-potency cannabis oil is not only safer, but also more efficient in the treatment of chronic pain. A University of Michigan study on chronic pain recently found that medical cannabis decreased the unpleasant side effects of pharmaceuticals and also reduced the use of opiates by 65% (Sciencedirect.com, 2017).

When looking at the safety profiles of both cannabis and opioids it is increasingly clear that cannabis is the safer choice. If a patient is already heavily dependent on opioids, however, it is advised that they seek a treatment protocol from a medical professional. In addition, the strain of cannabis and its administration will make a big difference in a patient’s results. Many patients seem to find the best pain relief from an indica strain which is higher in THC for relaxation in the evening. In contrast, a sativa strain used during the day can help to uplift and energize while still providing relief. There are also medicines that combine both THC and CBD, which work congruently to heal and provide pain relief together in a process known as the “entourage effect” (Russo, Ethan B., 20110. The research is sound, and the results are encouraging: medical cannabis, especially when in the form of whole-molecule medicine, is a safer and more effective alternative to opioids and a solution to opioid dependency.

Written by: Mara Trivino ©KingHarvest.org
Sources:
1. Hhs.gov. (2016) “The Opioid Epidemic: By the Numbers.” June 2016. Available at: 6 Sept. 2017]
2. Cdc.gov. (2017). Prescribing Data | Drug Overdose | CDC Injury Center. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/data/prescribing.html [Accessed 8 Sept. 2017].
3. Hurd YL, Yoon M, Manini AF, et al. Early Phase in the Development of Cannabidiol as a Treatment for Addiction: Opioid Relapse Takes Initial Center Stage. Neurotherapeutics. 2015;12(4):807-815. doi:10.1007/s13311-015-0373-7. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4604178/ [Accessed 5 Sept. 2017]
4. Bachhuber, M A, et al. “Medical cannabis laws and opioid analgesic overdose mortality in the United States, 1999-2010.” JAMA internal medicine., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Oct. 2014, Available at: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25154332 [Accessed 4 Sept. 2017]
5. “Medical Cannabis Use Is Associated With Decreased Opiate Medication Use in a Retrospective Cross-Sectional Survey of Patients With Chronic Pain.” Medical Cannabis Use Is Associated With Decreased Opiate Medication Use in a Retrospective Cross-Sectional Survey of Patients With Chronic Pain – ScienceDirect, Available at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1526590016005678 [Accessed 2 Sept. 2017]
6. Russo, Ethan B. “Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid‐terpenoid entourage effects.” British Journal of Pharmacology, Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 12 July 2011, Available at:
onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1476-5381.2011.01238.x/pdf [Accessed 3 Sept. 2017] 

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