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The Dark Side Of Opioids

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Could Cannabis Be The Solution For The Opioid Epidemic?

Opioid addiction. Two simple words, coming together to expose a severe problem. When you hear these words, and close your eyes, what do you see? I see faces of pain and suffering, dreams shattered into pieces, families destroyed and lives cut short.

The Opioid Crisis

With over 47,600 deaths caused by opioid overdose in 2017 (1), we are unquestionably facing a public health crisis. For many victims, their tragic story of drug addiction starts with a sensible desire to live without pain. Millions of Americans suffer from chronic pain. If you’re one of them, you know how quickly your physical discomfort can hijack your entire life, stealing every bit of enjoyment out of it.

Pain will take your life hostage and never let it go.

In a hopeless attempt to get your life back, you seek out the help of your doctor.

Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you might receive a prescription for a painkiller, such as an opioid. You feel optimistic, hopeful and ready to start living again.

The Dark Side Of Opioids

Oxycodone (Oxycontin, Percocet) and hydrocodone (Vicodin) are the most widely prescribed and abused opioids. There are many others in this class of drugs, such as codeine, fentanyl, and morphine.

When you fill that prescription, you have no idea about the serious risks that are inherent to many opioid medications. There is a reason as to why opioids are one of the most abused drugs in the US today.

Opioids Are Dangerously Addictive

People who suffer from chronic pain, look for long-term relief. Most opioids provide pain relief for no longer than 12-24 hours at a time, requiring a constant supply of the drug in your bloodstream to maintain their effectiveness.

Unless you make dietary, lifestyle, health, or surgical changes you will likely need to take these meds weeks or months at a time.

But here is the catch, many of these drugs lead to addiction in just a few days (2). This means that even if you take the medication as prescribed strictly for the duration recommended by your doctor, you may still be walking down the path of addiction.

And even though the word addiction is often playfully combined with things like chocolate and Netflix, opiate addiction is no joke.

Fentanyl, for example, is 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine, leading to a high potential for accidental overdose.

cannabis and opiates

Opioids Have A High Risk Of Tolerance

The second characteristic that makes opioids so dangerously addictive is the fact that it is challenging to get the dose right to achieve and maintain the desired effects.

When you first start taking opioids, you will experience intense pain relief, but this powerful effect will quickly subside. To compensate for the diminishing effect, most will end up on dangerously high doses of the drug.

Opioids Are Unproven For Long-Term Use In Chronic Pain

The long-term efficacy of opioids for chronic pain management has never been proven.

In a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2015 (3), authors declared the available scientific evidence insufficient to determine whether opioids were effective on the long-term for the management of chronic pain.

Based on the review of several clinical trials they also found opioids likely to cause harm in higher doses.

What Does Science Say About Cannabis and Pain?

Several studies have been published on the effectiveness and safety of cannabis for pain. In a 2015 study (4) authors reviewed the history of medicinal cannabis use and found that cannabis “may have a therapeutic role in a multitude of diseases, particularly chronic pain disorders”.

Another study (5), published in the Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology concluded that cannabinoids are safe and reasonably effective at reducing pain and therefore provide a sound therapeutic option in chronic pain management.

Could Cannabis Replace Opioids?

marijuana and the opiod crisis

Cannabis has an impressive amount of evidence to support its effectiveness in pain relief, and it comes with a significantly lower risk of addiction and no risk of overdose.

The question arose whether making cannabis more widely available could potentially reduce the demand for prescriptions written for opioids. This theory was put to the test in the Medicaid population, and results were reported in a recently published article in JAMA (6) in 2018.

Medical marijuana states saw a noticeable drop in the number of opioid prescriptions written in this segment of the population with a high risk for chronic pain.

This is huge, as the study clearly demonstrates how medical cannabis laws can serve as a valid tool to encourage lower prescription opioid use.

A second study (7) came to a similar conclusion and reinforced the results in the Medicare population, resulting in an 8.5% reduction in opioid prescribing.

Cannabis Helps Chronic Pain Patients Reduce Their Opioid Use

What about those already on opioids trying to cut back on their use? Can cannabis be helpful to them? This question was answered in a survey (8) of 244 medical cannabis patients conducted over a two year period. Participants reported an impressive 64% reduction in opioid use, a decrease in medication-related side effects and a striking improvement in their overall quality of life.

Cannabis For Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms

There is growing pre-clinical and clinical evidence that supports the use of cannabis to help reduce the symptoms of opioid withdrawal. (9)

While it isn’t fully understood how cannabis eases the uncomfortable symptoms of withdrawal, such as nausea and anxiety, we can unquestionably conclude that cannabis can assist with the opioid epidemic in various different ways.

Cannabis has a real potential to play an important role in halting the opioid crisis and become part of the solution. If you are someone who lives with chronic pain and you are ready to break free from the chain of opioid addiction, you may want to consider cannabis.

  3., Ann Intern Med. 2015 Feb 17;162(4):276-86. doi: 10.7326/M14-2559. The effectiveness and risks of long-term opioid therapy for chronic pain: a systematic review for a National Institutes of Health Pathways to Prevention Workshop.
  4., Headache. 2015 Jun;55(6):885-916, Comprehensive Review of Medicinal Marijuana, Cannabinoids, and Therapeutic Implications in Medicine and Headache: What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been ….,
  5., J Neuroimmune Pharmacol, 2015, Cannabinoids for the Treatment of Chronic Non-Cancer Pain: An Updated Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials
  6., JAMA Intern Med. 2018 May 1;178(5):673-679. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2018.1007. Association of Medical and Adult-Use Marijuana Laws With Opioid Prescribing for Medicaid Enrollees.
  7., JAMA Intern Med. 2018;178(5):667-672. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2018.0266, Association Between US State Medical Cannabis Laws and Opioid Prescribing in the Medicare Part D Population
  8., J Pain. 2016 Jun;17(6):739-44. doi: 10.1016/j.jpain.2016.03.002. Epub 2016 Mar 19., Medical Cannabis Use Is Associated With Decreased Opiate Medication Use in a Retrospective Cross-Sectional Survey of Patients With Chronic Pain.
  9., Cannabis Cannabinoid Res. 2018; 3(1): 179–189. Published online 2018 Sep 1. doi: 10.1089/can.2018.0022, Emerging Evidence for Cannabis’ Role in Opioid Use Disorder

Corinne Tobias

My name is Corinne Tobias and I’m the creator of this site that is all about cannabis and health (and having a good time combining those things!). Since 2013, I’ve helped millions of people on their cannabis journey and have been featured in publications like High Times, Merry Jane, Jezelbel, Westword, and Vice.

14 thoughts on “The Dark Side Of Opioids”

  1. My daughter Kelly lost her life on August 26, 2009, and it took me 4 days to find her body in her NYC apartment. She was prescribed an OUTRAGEOUS methadone dosage to wean off pills prescribed, after being clean of heroin for many years!! I am turning 60 soon, just graduated Rutgers University in my daughter’s honor, and speak out about this everywhere I go! I get involved with petitions to our government that had results in changing some prescription policies, but I have watched more than one young life taken right from my neighborhood. I myself have weaned off of 6 prescriptions in the past few years, and replaced it all with THC products. I LOVE your page!!

    1. I’m so sorry to hear about Kelly… no mother should ever have to go through that type of heartbreak. But congratulations on graduating and speaking out. You are doing great things for the world. Thank you!!

      -Fiona (Corinne’s Assistant)

  2. In 2006 I got off oxycontin and gabapentin and numerous other depression pills and anxiety pills. I used medical marijuana to help me get off these drugs that I was prescribed for 9 years. I only used marijuana. I know it saved my life. Debbie mcmurtrey

  3. In the last few years I have undergone 3 root canals and associated dental procedures (crowns, etc). I also had an operation to fix prostate growth (bemign).

    I used to get as many T3’s as I could from the dentist but now I just use lots and lots of CBD, both spraying it on the painful tooth and ingested.

    Following the prostate operation (a TURP), I used pot to deal with the year of discomfort having to do self-catheterization for 10 months while I recovered. the ability to urinate normally.

    I don’t know whether others can do as I do, but it worked for me and is worth a try.

  4. So, I received the link to this article in my email. I think, the circumstances in which a person becomes addicted to opioids are irelevent to the question regarding using mariuanna to remedy the opioid ” crisis “. However, I can agree that there is a crisis, for those who choose it. I also agree that mariuanna is much much better than opioids for a longer term use, for any purpose. Mariunna is an option these days, for those who choose it. Ultimatley though, it is a choice that we must make for ourselves. Its out there people. Dont wait for the your doctor, or the government to tell you what to do.

  5. Hey Corrine, In the past 10 years I have taken over 10,000
    Opioids due to a failed back surgery. The real
    reason there is a crisis is because of cost. I can get 240 oxymorphone for $3.00. The cheapest medical cannabis is $40. No way I can afford the
    the amount of cannabis to combat my chronic pain.Cannabis must be priced much lower to fight the crisis. Keep up the good work.

  6. Roland Jones”Tripp”

    Opioids are garbage.. I have had 3 back surgeries.. all failed.. over ten years all opioids were administered.. got C-diff from a antibiotic.. lost 120 pounds.. so sick I came off all opioids.. at home with my wife and children.. use Cannabis everyday minimal pain.. run 5 to 6 miles a day!! I’m in control again.. I just want to help others.. much much more to the story!Sincerely Tripp Jones

  7. I had multiple shoulder fractures from an accident in 2008. For that, and other reasons I still suffer from constant pain, without medication. The VA had prescribed me four (4) different types of Opioid pain meds between 2008 until 2014. The pills made my stomach constantly hurt, and caused insomnia. I took myself off the pain meds by using cannabis. In my opinion cannabis works much better for my pain management and I have no problems with sleep. I’m very thankful to live in California!

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