The current health care system in the U.S. is poorly equipped to address the needs of patients who have chronic pain or have opioid dependence. According to the CDC Center for Disease Control and Prevention, drug overdose deaths increased by nearly 5% from 2018 to 2019 and have quadrupled since 19991. The majority of people who use opioids long-term struggle with chronic pain. Their lives are often hampered by addiction, dependence, and overdoses, not to mention the negative consequences on society.
However, many cannabis advocates believe that access to medicinal Cannabis can alleviate people suffering from addiction and help them function normally. But there is a major obstacle keeping people from receiving the help they so desperately need. The DEA (The United States Drug Enforcement Administration) still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug with no medical benefit and a high potential for abuse. A Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act means that a substance has a high potential for abuse, has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and lacks accepted safety for use under medical supervision.
Thus, this classification makes studying cannabinoids in controlled, rigorous scientific studies difficult. And because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved just one cannabis-based medicine, many doctors are hesitant to prescribe it due to the lack of research on its uses and safety profile.
Medical Cannabis and Opioid Addiction
However, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, the chief medical correspondent for CNN, says the government needs to legalize medical Cannabis so that people can access safe, legal treatment without fear of prosecution or stigma. “It’s time we accept marijuana’s medical properties so that people who need it can access safe, legal treatment without fear of prosecution or stigma,” Dr. Gupta wrote in an opinion piece for CNN. He went on to say that “the majority of people who use opioids long-term struggle with chronic pain.”
Unfortunately, at the height of the opioid crisis, some patients were prescribed more than half a pound of pure opioids per year. While this is an extreme example, it illustrates just how pervasive opioid prescribing was in pain management for chronic conditions—and that’s even after pharmaceutical companies had come under fire by government agencies for their role in triggering addiction and overdose deaths.
Conversely, medicinal Cannabis could help fight this epidemic. Research shows that among those suffering from chronic pain, Cannabis not only works just as well as opioids for some conditions, but it also carries far less of the risk of addiction and can even help reduce opiate use.
Opioid Vs. Cannabis
As far as pain management goes, opioids are effective but have dire side effects. They carry a very high risk of addiction and overdose death—a significant factor in the current epidemic. A recent study of Cannabis as a Substitute for Opioid-Based Pain Medication: Patient Self-Report showed that Cannabis could be an effective pain treatment, significantly reduce the chance of dependence, and eliminate the risk of fatal overdose compared to opioid-based medications. Medical cannabis patients report that Cannabis is just as effective, if not more, than opioid-based medications for pain.
Moreover, medical Cannabis has a well-documented record in managing pain, with a 2009 study finding medicinal cannabis users have a 64 percent decrease in opioid use. And it has minimal risk of addiction and can’t cause an overdose.
In contrast, in 2017, there were more than 14,000 fatal overdoses related to prescription opioids across the country—and even more to heroin. Overdoses from opioids have quadrupled since 1999, and the number of people treated for opioid addiction has also shot up.
With that said, the risk of addiction is exceptionally high when opioids are used to manage chronic pain over a long time, but there’s a safe alternative with minimum risk of overdose or addiction: medicinal Cannabis. Moreover, the research is compelling—medical Cannabis can replace pharmaceutical drugs as the preferred method of pain management in a wide range of conditions.
Medical Cannabis for Chronic Pain
While opioids have been pushed to the front lines in pain management, chronic pain sufferers have always had a safe alternative—medical Cannabis. In addition to their well-documented abilities to manage neuropathic and cancer-related pain, cannabinoids are showing great potential as an effective form of extended-release opioids. And according to the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, Medical Cannabis, has been used as a medical treatment for more than 3,000 years for a myriad of conditions, including digestive issues, pain relief, and psychological disorders.
Further, in a study published in the Journal of Pain, researchers concluded that “cannabinoids are effective for treating chronic pain and improving quality of life in patients with chronic pain not fully relieved by strong opioids.” Cannabis can reduce pain intensity by 34 percent and reduce opioid intake.
Researchers went on to conclude that “cannabis augments the analgesic effects of opioids.” In a study of over 1,000 cancer patients, the majority preferred Cannabis as a method for managing their pain. After using both substances, 83 percent remained on medical Cannabis and reduced their opiate intake by an average of 64 percent.
In summary, the debate regarding the pros and cons associated with the use of medical Cannabis will persist due to continuing legalization and research efforts. Opioid addiction has had devastating effects on society, leading to more than 70,000 deaths from drug-involved overdose in 2019, including illicit drugs and prescription opioids in the U.S. alone.
While some may argue that medicinal Cannabis isn’t the answer because it can cause other mental health problems and trigger psychosis, research suggests otherwise. Medical Cannabis could be a safe alternative to opioids as studies show cannabinoids effectively alleviate pain without inducing dependencies as opioids do.
Finally, if you suffer from chronic pain or know of someone suffering from chronic pain, please visit medibles.io and take our online health assessment. And one of our BioHealth Specialists will schedule an appointment with a doctor on our medical advisory board. Also, follow us below on social media and check out our newsletter for more helpful information, where we cover mental health, nutrition, and fitness to help improve your health and wellness.