A significant amount of evidence has emerged over the past several months suggesting that the legalizing of marijuana may be the all-powerful solution to curbing the opioid epidemic currently coursing through the veins of a large part of the American population.
Mostly recently, a study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence finds a modest drop in opioid-related hospitalizations in states that have legalized medical marijuana. The main takeaway from this and similar studies is that some people may actually choose to use marijuana as opposed to prescription painkillers, if they could simply get their hands on the herb through legal channels.
However, opioid advocates (Yes, that is a thing) argue that medical marijuana could never take the place of prescription painkillers because “opioids are the best pain reliever we have.”
A recent column from Pain News Network suggests that the news coverage on the American drug crisis has given some people the impression that pain medications are simply a disposable portion of the healthcare industry. It goes on to say that some pain issues, which are predicted to impact the lives of 100 million Americans at some point in their lifetime, can be so severe that only opioid medications can offer any relief.
“This is the pain that keeps you awake for days at a stretch because the brain simply cannot disengage. This is the pain that ends careers, shatters families and destroys relationships. It is not an achy muscle or a tender joint. Chronic pain is to ordinary pain as a hurricane is to a rain shower,” writes Roger Chriss, a Washington-based technical consultant, who suffers from a connective tissue disorder known as Ehlers Danlos syndrome.
The article goes on to suggest that journalists have ignored the “reality” that opioid medications have become “essential to modern healthcare.”
“Trauma and battlefield injuries could not be managed without the analgesic effects of opioids,” Chriss wrote. “The same is true for tens of thousands of cancer surgeries, organ transplants and hip replacements. And for the neuropathic pain caused by chemotherapy or the pain of a sickle-cell crisis. The list goes on and on. Opioids are an invaluable medical resource.”
Some research has surfaced, over the years, showing marijuana could be effective for pain management. But medical experts argue the herb really only targets “some of the same areas of the brain as opioids,” which makes it effective in treating certain types of pain, while never touching the severity of others.
Dr. Devi E. Nampiaparampil, assistant professor of rehabilitation medicine at the New York University School of Medicine, says medical marijuana may be more effective for short-term pain as opposed to chronic cases related to debilitating conditions.
“Marijuana may be safer than opioid use in the short-term,” she wrote back in 2015. “It hasn’t caused any lethal drug overdoses and the number of opioid deaths appears to have decreased in states with laws allowing medical marijuana. While the reasons for this are still unclear, it may be that the addition of marijuana is effectively replacing opioids for some people or it might also be boosting the pain relief patients get on the same dose of painkillers.”
This does appear to be one of those situations where a patient must determine, on his or her own, which is more effective for them: opioids or medical marijuana. Unfortunately, a decision in favor of pills as opposed to a natural plant could come with some serious repercussions, such as addiction and perhaps even accidental overdose.
Another aspect of the nation’s opioid problem that has failed to garner much attention is the fact that regardless of where marijuana is legal, there will always be those people who will prefer to use and abuse opioids.
A recent article from the Denver Post shows that heroin-related deaths have doubled in Colorado, a place where marijuana is legally available to adults 21 and over. In fact, since the beginning of 2017, law enforcement agencies report being forced to use life-saving drugs (Naloxone) to revive more than 170 opioid overdose victims. Sadly, these statistics do not include the overdose reversals administered by other emergency responders, like paramedics and firefighters, from all across the state.
So, while marijuana legalization may help reduce the national opioid epidemic to some degree, it should not be considered a panacea. At this point, education and other prevention methods are most important to putting a leash on the problem. There is also a need for progressive policies that make it easier for the average citizen to keep life-saving medications on hand.
Sadly, despite what many lawmakers might believe, treatment and recovery is not necessarily an honest option for the majority of people suffering from this disease.
A recent study in the journal Addiction finds that 67 percent of those treated for opioid dependence end up returning to dope within a year.
TELL US, do you use cannabis to treat pain?