Is Marijuana the Cure for the Opioid Epidemic?
A third of the United States population suffers from chronic pain, a condition that costs $100 billion dollars a year in lost productivity in the workforce. Every day 91 people in the US die from opioid overdoses. Even though zero statistics support the use of opioids as long-term treatment for chronic pain, 650,000 new prescriptions are issued each day for this substance. We ask, is marijuana cure for opioids.
NFL team doctors continue to prescribe opioids to treat players’ injuries despite the crippling side effects and addictive nature of these drugs. A study conducted by investigators at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found that 7 percent of the former NFL players surveyed were currently using painkilling opioid drugs. This statistic is more than four times the rate of opioid use in the general population.
During a presentation at the 2017 Cultivation Classic, neuroscientist Dr. Adie Poe of Habu Health talked about the need for alternative solutions to opioids as a treatment for those suffering for chronic pain. According to Poe, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) suggested using non-opioids for most cases of chronic pain, as well as using the lowest effective dose of opioids.
MARIJUANA CURE FOR CHRONIC PAIN
In Poe’s estimation, medical marijuana can help address the CDC’s concern that non-opioids be used in the treatment of chronic pain. A report issued by the National Academies of Sciences and Engineering and Medicine reviewed more than 100,000 studies to evaluate the harm and benefits of marijuana when used by patients. The review presented conclusive evidence for cannabis as an effective treatment for chronic pain. In other words, marijuana cure for chronic pain can work. While this study found substantial evidence linking cannabis to respiratory problems if smoked or vaped, medical marijuana can be consumed effectively in other ways. Marijuana patients can get their recommended dose by taking this product in other forms such as cannabis pills, edibles, tinctures, and topicals.
Furthermore, Poe pointed to the synergy of using both opioids and cannabinoids to enhance pain relief. People on cannabis drop their use of opioids by about half. As cognitive abilities improve after taking medical marijuana as patients are taking less opioids, these individuals are able achieve a higher level of functioning in their professional and personal lives than when they were taking only opioids.
BARRIERS TO MARIJUANA AS A CURE
In a talk at TechFestNW, Jeremy Plumb of Farma highlighted some barriers to the effective treatment of cannabis for chronic pain. As medicinal marijuana remains classified by the DEA as a schedule 1 drug, this means the product is still viewed at the federal level as having no medicinal value. Also, cannabis research remains in its infancy due to the stoner stigma associated with this plant coupled with the difficulties of conducting medical research on a federally banned substance. Hence, doctors don’t prescribe cannabis pills or understand the health benefits of medical marijuana.
Other obstacles include the need to address dosage consistency and diversity issues in the regulated markets. Furthermore, there remains limited knowledge of chemotypes and their uses.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR MARIJUANA PATIENTS?
Dr. Poe points to the need for clinical trials on medical marijuana in order to present legislators with the data needed to convince them to de-schedule medical marijuana. In the interim, she recommends analytical testing to address any toxins present in the plant. Reliable and reproducible testing will instill confidence in the data being presented.
Also, product development needs to take into consideration the needs of immunocompromised and pediatric patients. Finally, there’s a need to educate budtenders, Those who work in dispensaries need to be able to address customers’ questions about the use of marijuana as a cure for chronic pain.
So far, the limited statistics available point to cannabis as an effective tool to combat the opioid epidemic. A 2014 article published in JAMA cites that states with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8% lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate compared with states without medical cannabis laws. This lower morality rate came about simply through the availability of medical marijuana and not due to any large scale advocacy or educational campaigns. As Plumb aptly noted, a running joke in the cannabis community is that the only way one can actually die from marijuana is if a bale falls on them.