Positive results from the study may provide the medical cannabis industry with the power to throw a wrench in the pharmaceutical system that profits off of the strongest, most additive substances known to mankind. Twisted logic has led to tens of thousand of opioid overdose deaths annually and a steady flow of adolescent heroin users.
The two-year, evidence-based study, “Medical Cannabis — an Evidence-Based, Harm Reduction Approach to Prescription Opiate Use,” will look at prescribed pharmaceutical-grade cannabis as an opioid substitute. Researchers will assess the subjective effects of cannabis compared to opioids and look at therapeutic satisfaction. Patients will be given periodic questionnaires administered by their pharmacists.
The study could reinforce the theory that patients that take medical cannabis take far fewer pills for chronic pain. If medical cannabis as a painkiller is better understood, it could result in real legislative change.
“There is new research that finds deaths related to the use of opiate drugs fell in 13 states that legalized medical marijuana and experienced a steady drop in opiate-related overdoses. The striking implication is that medical marijuana laws, when implemented, may represent a promising approach for stemming runaway rates of nonintentional opioid-analgesic-related deaths,” wrote opiate abuse researchers Dr. Mark S. Brown and Marie J. Hayes in a commentary. “If true, this finding upsets the apple cart of conventional wisdom regarding the public health implications of marijuana legalizations and medicinal usefulness.”
Accidental drug overdoses killed 47,055 men and women in the United States in 2014, according to a study by the American Society of Addiction Medicine. Pain killer deaths, comprising mostly of oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine and fentanyl dwarfed any other kind of drug with 18,893 deaths. Heroin, while not quite as deadly, killed 10,574 men and women. In 2014, nearly half a million teens aged 12 to 17 popped painkillers illegally.
Four out of five heroin users say they started out using painkillers and, for this reason, heroin deaths quadrupled between 2000 and 2013. Meanwhile, medical cannabis deaths maintained a death toll of zero.
Gram for gram, one gram of fentanyl equals approximately 25 grams of street heroin, or 100 grams of oral morphine. Even fentanyl transdermal patches, which only deliver micrograms of the drug per hour, can easily cause death. The fentanyl patch is manufactured by the Alza Corporation and distributed by Janssen Pharmaceuticals, both subsidiaries of Johnson & Johnson, a mothership of drugs approved by the FDA. Fentanyl is also freely available as a lollipop called Actiq.
There have been 35 FDA-approved painkillers recalled since the 1970s, but that hasn’t slowed even more powerful drugs from being developed. The latest rash of recalls involves pain patches like the fentanyl patch.
National Access Cannabis connects patients with physicians and licensed producers through Health Canada. Canada is ranked as having the second-highest number of opioid addicts in the world. According to the Narcotics Control Board, opioid use in Canada increased 203 percent between 2000 and 2010.
Medical cannabis is showing more promise as a pain reliever than ever before, with medical cannabis programs in 25 states. A recent survey conducted by Prevention found that one out of three Americans say they are “extremely or very likely” to use medical cannabis as a pain reliever. Of the 1,025 adults surveyed, 20 percent say they would be interested in using medical cannabis to manage chronic pain.
The efficacy of medical cannabis as an analgesic is well documented. The National Access Cannabis study would take that further by comparing medical cannabis with painkillers.
Have you used marijuana to get off opioids? Tell us about your experiences.