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Can Marijuana Help End America’s Opioid Problem?



In October last year, the president of the United States, Donald J. Trump declared the opioid abuse crisis in America a public health emergency. This is what he had to say.

“We can be the generation that ends the opioid epidemic”

His solution, more death penalties and fewer prescriptions. According to experts, that plan hasn’t worked in the past and it won’t work in the future. So the question is. How can America end its opioid problem?

Today, prescription painkillers and street drugs such as heroin kill more people than road crashes. According to Amanda Reiman, manager of law and policy at the Drug Policy Alliance:

“It wasn’t considered a problem until it started impacting middle-class white people”

“When you start to see it happening in places that are not aligning with people’s expectations, folks start to notice”

How Did the Opioid Crisis Start?

doctor patient

Between 1999 and 2014, the sale of prescription opioids in the U.S nearly quadrupled. It is estimated that 1 out of 5 patients with non cancer pain or pain related diagnoses are prescribed opioids. That’s according to the CDC. Primary care providers, account for about half of opioid pain relievers dispensed. What made this possible is. Looser prescription guidelines and aggressive pharmaceutical marketing campaigns, the odd thing is. The vast majority of people who use prescription pain killers report no major changes even after long term use.


The Problem

There are drugs proven to be successful in treating opioid addiction. The problem is, most of these drugs, cause more problems than they solve. Let’s take buprenorphine as an example. This drug is used to treat narcotic/opiate addiction, if you start using it today, the side effects you may experience include:

  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Weak or shallow breathing
  • Loss of coordination, weakness or limp feeling
  • Blurred vision, slurred speech, thinking problems.
  • Nausea, upper stomach pain, loss of appetite, itching, jaundice, and dark colored urine.
  • Vomiting, shaking or shivering, runny nose, watery eyes, muscle pain.
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Feeling drunk
  • Headaches, mild dizziness.
  • Tingling and numbness

That is not a complete list; you can find other side effects of this drug here.

Related: Will The Marijuana Justice Act Pass This Year?

Why Cannabis May Be The Perfect Alternative

marijuana on bowl

To date, no one knows the lethal dose of cannabis, why? There has never been a documented case of a death caused by cannabis. Cannabis is the perfect painkiller because, once you stop using cannabis, all the side effects go away. According to the center for medicinal cannabis research at the University of California:

“We know have reasonable evidence that cannabis is a promising treatment in selected pain syndromes caused by injury or diseases of the nervous system, and possibly for painful muscle spasticity due to multiple sclerosis”

There is evidence to suggest that, when paired with prescription pain killers. Cannabis can increase the pain relieving properties of opioids and lower the negative side effects.  Kelly Dunn, a professor of behavioral pharmacology at Johns Hopkins University says. You don’t need as many opioids to reduce pain if you pair it with cannabis.

A survey by DR. Dustin Sulak found that, out of 542 of his patients using cannabis alongside opioids, 39% reduced their opioid dosage, on top of that another 39% stopped using opioids altogether.

How Cannabis May Help Reduce Opioid Abuse and Overdoses

pills in mouth

Cannabinoid and opioid receptors are co-distributed in the pain centers of your brain. Cannabinoid receptors have low density in brainstem cardio-respiratory centers. If you combine Cannabinoids and opioids, the therapeutic index of opiates increases. Cannabis can help prevent opioid abuse and overdoes because:

  • Cannabis lowers the risk of developing dependence more than any other substance.
  • It has a better safety profile than all prescription pain killers and drugs used to treat opioid addiction.
  • Cannabis has a low risk of abuse (not a gateway drug).
  • You don’t need formal treatment to stop using cannabis.
  • Minimal side effects
  • Reduces craving for pain killers and opioids
  • Reduces the rewarding properties of opioid drugs and withdrawal symptoms

How to use cannabis as a substitute for opioid drugs

  1. To reduce cravings for heroin or any other drug, inhale cannabis, you can use a vaporizer.
  2. Take a small dose of cannabis (1-2mg) with your daily dose of opioids.
  3. Use sedating strains of cannabis to improve your sleep patterns.
  4. Use cannabis to enhance health promoting activities such as exercise or meditation.

What should be done?

Cannabis has proven itself to be a powerful tool in fighting opioid addiction and pain. The issue is, on the federal level, marijuana is classified  as a schedule I substance, meaning, it is illegal. The best way forward is for governments worldwide to legalize marijuana and let researchers conduct thorough studies. If patients can access cannabis easily, the chances of them, developing an addiction to opioids reduces.

Whart are your thoughts on this? Feel free to share them in the comment section.


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