CANNABIS CULTURE- America is experiencing the worst drug crisis in American history. Overdoses from heroin and other opioids are killing more than 28 thousand people a year, and the death toll is on the rise.
In response to the epidemic, doctors are prescribing fewer opioids in smaller doses, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
However, the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report shows that too many patients are still getting opioids and doctors are writing prescriptions that last longer.
The opioid epidemic is far from over, and cannabis is still a viable solution.
How can cannabis help the opioid epidemic?
To answer this question, we look to the places that have legalized marijuana for pain relief. In these states, people have a choice between marijuana and cannabis, or they can choose a combination of both. This gives us the opportunity to compare both based on efficiency and safety.
In one study published in the Journal of Pain, researchers found that patients who use cannabis for pain rely less on their prescribed opioid painkillers. Among 244 patients studied, medical cannabis reduced opioid use by 64%.
Cannabis also shows promise for difficult-to-treat pain. A Therapeutics and Clinical Risk Management review found that medical marijuana is a safe and effective treatment for pain associated with peripheral neuropathic pain, rheumatoid arthritis and cancer. Among 177 participants, cannabis was well-tolerated. Researchers also noted that there weren’t any safety concerns during the study.
A Journal of Pain and Symptom Management study also confirms that cannabis is safe and effective for treating cancer-related pain. Among 177 participants, cannabis was well-tolerated. Researchers noted that there weren’t any safety concerns during the study.
Patients Prefer Cannabis
If adding cannabis as a pain-relief option reduces opioid use by over 60%, we can see that there’s a clear winner. As we’ve seen in the Journal of Pain study, patients clearly prefer cannabis.
A Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research study confirms that medical marijuana is the preferred pain killer. Researchers collected data from 2,897 medical cannabis patients to determine whether they thought medical marijuana provided relief on par with other medications. Thirty-four percent of the sample reported using opioid medications within the past six months. A whopping 81% of the opioid-taking group agreed that medical marijuana alone provided more relief than taking cannabis with opioids. Patients also reported that they were able to use less opioids when using cannabis.
Opioid Safety Versus Cannabis Safety
Ninety-one Americans die daily from an opioid overdose, according to data from the CDC.
If you take them as prescribed, opioids can cause many adverse reactions. Taken to another level, opioid abuse has serious side effects that include death. Opioids are dangerous and addictive drugs that have a devastating impact on society. Cannabis has shown promise as a safer alternative, but it isn’t without its own set of side effects.
Opioid side effects and risk factors
Accidental overdose is the most dangerous side effect of opioid medications, but it isn’t the only one. The following are a list of opioid side effects and risk factors:
- Sedation: Opioids can make you tired, which raises the risk of accidents that can cause severe injury.
- Dependence: Over time, the body becomes dependent on opioids. Once you’ve become dependent, your body will go into withdrawal without a daily dose. Dependence doesn’t necessarily mean you’re addicted, but it’s a sign that your body is relying on these drugs to function, which may be a precursor to addiction.
- Increased tolerance: The more you take opioids for pain, the more you will need to relieve your pain. The body builds up a tolerance to the levels you are taking, so your doctor must increase your dosage to achieve the same level of pain relief.
- Low sex drive: People who take opioids are more likely to experience low estrogen and testosterone. This can result in a low sex drive in men, and it may cause women’s menstrual cycles to cease.
- Constipation: This is a very common side effect of opioid use.
- Opioid sensitivity: Long-term opioid use can worsen pain in a condition called opioid-induced hyperalgesia.
- Sleep apnea: Opioid use can lead to sleep apnea, which is a condition where you stop breathing for short periods during sleep. Your risk of developing sleep apnea increases as the opioid dose increase.
- Lung and heart problems: The sedation that comes with opioid can slow your breathing. Without enough air over time, this can cause damage to your heart and lungs.
- Dry mouth: Using opioid painkillers can reduce the amount of saliva in your mouth. Since saliva’s purpose is to flush away bacteria, a lack of saliva can lead to tooth decay.
Cannabis side effects and risk factors
A study led by Prof. Pesach Shvartzman of Ben-Gurion University of Israel found that more than 77% of patients who used marijuana had minor side effects, including:
- Dry mouth: The most common compliant of people who used medical marijuana was dry mouth with 60.6% of marijuana users reporting this side effect. Dry mouth can be uncomfortable and it can lead to tooth decay if left untreated.
- Hunger: Sixty percent of marijuana users in the study reported hunger as a side effect.
- High moods: Forty-four percent of participants reported high moods when taking marijuana.
- Red eyes: Thirty-two percent of marijuana users reported having red eyes as a side effect.
- Sleepiness: Nearly 25% of participants reported sleepiness as a side effect of using marijuana. Sleepiness can be a danger when driving or using heavy machinery. Fatigue was a close second with nearly 30% of participants who experienced this side effect.
- Blurred vision: Only 13% of marijuana users reported experiencing blurred vision.
These results tell us that there are quite a few common side effects of marijuana use, but these side effects are not severe or life-threatening.
According to the DEA, marijuana is not responsible for any deaths by overdose.
The DEA’s fact sheet also lists some side effects that weren’t mentioned in the Israeli study. These side effects include:
- Increased heart rate
- Shallow breathing
- Slowed reaction time
- Distorted sense of time
- Short-term forgetfulness
Addiction and withdrawal symptoms aren’t as common with marijuana as they are with opioids, but they can occur. Nearly 10% of people who use marijuana become dependent. Withdrawal symptoms include cravings, irritability, loss of appetite and sleeplessness.
Both cannabis and opioids have undeniable side effects, but research shows that the risks are much less with cannabis. In the largest long-term study of medical cannabis safety on patients with chronic pain, Canadian researchers found that patients who used cannabis every day for a year did not suffer more serious side effects than those who did not take cannabis. Researchers found no evidence of harmful effects on cognitive function and patients saw a significant improvement in their pain levels and mood.
The future of pain relief
ABC News poll results show us that 19% of adults suffered from chronic pain in 2005, but only 6% have used cannabis in an attempt to treat their pain. These statistics leave much room for improvement.
Before medical marijuana can have an impact on the opioid epidemic, it must be approved for pain management in all states. Because marijuana is listed as a Schedule I drug along with dangerous drugs like heroin, there are some hurdles to further testing and approval. But we can all do our part.
If your state has yet to approve medical marijuana for pain, there are a few actions you can take.
- Contact your state legislators and take action through the MMP’s website.
- Learn how your state senators rank on the NORML scale, which ranks senators based on their stance on marijuana. This can help you determine which members of congress to target.
- Share the facts on social media and in person. Learn more about how cannabis can help the opioid epidemic and potentially other health issues, then spread the good word.
If you live in a state where medical marijuana has been approved for pain relief, talk to your doctor about how to move forward. If you aren’t sure about your state’s marijuana policies, check the Marijuana Policy Project’s website.
The opioid epidemic has quickly become a crisis that is claiming many lives.
In 2016 alone, drug overdoses claimed more than 50,000 American lives. Although marijuana is listed in the same schedule as dangerous drugs, it has not contributed one death to that alarming toll.
We’ve seen evidence of a drug that’s proven effective against pain. Patients prefer it over opioids. This medication is not likely to cause addiction and will not lead to death by overdose.
Marijuana may be the best alternative we have to opioid pain medication.