Medical Marijuana: Can Cannabis Cancel The Opioid Epidemic?

Medical Marijuana: Can Cannabis Cancel the Opioid Epidemic?

An often dismissed option in the struggle to address opioid addiction is the use of medical marijuana.

Though usage of the cannabis plant remains controversial in the United States, several studies indicate it may have value in addressing opioid addiction, either through use as a medication-assisted treatment drug like methadone or buprenorphine or as an alternative pain management medication to cut out opioids entirely.

And with tens of thousands of people dying from opioid-related instances every year, all options must be considered.

The Argument for Medical Marijuana Replacing Opioid Pain Medications

More than 100 million Americans report chronic pain, and treatment has traditionally emphasized prescription of opioid medications. However, the risk of a substance use disorder beginning with prescription painkillers is high. 75% of heroin users in the 2000s report that their addiction began with prescription drugs.

Proponents of using medical marijuana for pain management aim to target these 100 million Americans. They point toward studies indicating far fewer opioid users in states where medical marijuana has been legalized, as well as the lack of evidence for any deaths due to cannabis overdose.

Companies such as Axim Biotechnologies Inc, Nemus Bioscience Inc and Intec Pharma Ltd have cannabis-based drugs in various stages of development. These drugs aim to isolate two compounds found in cannabis plants: THC and CBD.

According to the National Institute On Drug Abuse (NIDA), THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) can increase appetite and reduce nausea, and may also decrease pain, inflammation, and muscle control problems. CBD (cannabidiol) is believed to have similar effects, and it does not create the high associated with THC.

Medical Marijuana in Medication-Assisted Treatment

Another avenue for medical marijuana in addressing opioid addiction is to reduce withdrawal symptoms. This is similar to medication-assisted treatment, a popular OUD treatment method that uses methadone, naltrexone, or buprenorphine to address withdrawal symptoms.

Withdrawal symptoms for those suffering from opioid addiction can include:

    • Aching muscles
    • Agitation or anxiety
    • Diarrhea
    • Goose bumps
    • Increased tearing
    • Pupil dilation
    • Runny nose
    • Stomach cramps, nausea, or vomiting
    • Sweating or yawning
  • Trouble sleeping

As with MAT, detractors argue that using cannabis to get off opioids is simply “replacing one addiction with another.” However, proponents of medical marijuana argue that its medicinal properties can address many of these symptoms, increasing the likelihood of success in those seeking to overcome opioid addiction.

Learn more about medication-assisted treatment and how AZZLY® Rize™ helps MAT facilities by clicking here.

Potential Pitfalls

Despite being legal in 29 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and Guam, the stigma concerning medical marijuana usage persists. Since the 1970s, marijuana has been classified by the federal government as a schedule 1 drug, meaning it has no medicinal value and a high potential for misuse.

To fully verify marijuana’s merits as a prescription drug, either as a painkiller or as a component in a treatment method similar to MAT, would first require extensive research and human testing.

As it is not currently approved by the FDA, such testing is unlikely to occur anytime soon.

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