The opioid crisis across Canada and the United States has been deepening. Despite measures taken by concerned groups and even governments, opioid overdoses rose again in 2017, with some experts reporting the death toll was nearly 4,000 Canadian lives last year alone.
Many people are now wondering what to do. It’s clear the crisis needs to be resolved, but solutions seem to be scarce. Opioid medications are still the prescription of choice when it comes to managing many conditions, including chronic pain. Although research has shown these medications may not be any more effective than other options, medical professionals have been reluctant to adopt the alternatives.
One of the most promising alternatives at the current moment appears to be medical cannabis. Emerging research suggests cannabis could be an effective tool in the management of conditions such as chronic pain, although more research is needed. To date, several studies and many anecdotal stories have suggested medical cannabis could even decrease opioid dependence. Here are a few of the ways medical cannabis could help.
1. It’s Used to Treat the Same Conditions Opioids Are Prescribed For
One of the reasons medical professionals prescribe opioids in the first place is because of their perceived effectiveness. Until recently, the consensus was opioids were the most effective painkillers known to human beings.
New research is drawing this conventional wisdom into question. Some emerging research suggests opioids are no more effective than other treatments, such as lidocaine. Medical cannabis is used to treat the same conditions as opioids are commonly prescribed for, such as chronic pain and nerve pain.
Patients who currently have an opioid dependence may be able to treat their condition effectively with medical cannabis. By substituting medical cannabis for opioids, the dependence could be reduced.
2. It Is Safer
In addition, medical cannabis is known to be safer. The body doesn’t appear to develop a tolerance to the substance the same way it develops a tolerance to opioid medications. This increasing tolerance encourages patients to take higher doses of opioids, which in turn may lead to their eventual dependence and potential overdose.
Medical cannabis appears to lack the same addictive qualities, which means people using it can stick with the same dose for long periods of time. As a result, they may be able to reduce their intake of opioids without increasing their dependence on another substance.
It’s also incredibly difficult to overdose on cannabis and leads to milder effects, which makes it a safer choice.
3. It Can Act on the Brain
Opioid dependence usually has a mental component in addition to the physical component. Withdrawal from opioid medications can be very physically painful and unpleasant, but it’s the mental need for the substance that drives people to do drastic things.
Medical cannabis contains THC, which is a psychoactive compound. Since it acts on the brain, it could reduce the mental aspect of opioid dependence. It could reduce the powerful cravings those with an opioid dependence feel.
4. It May Ease Withdrawal
As noted, since medical cannabis can act on the brain, it may reduce symptoms associated with withdrawal. Since withdrawal is physically and mentally unpleasant, those with an opioid dependence are driven to avoid it.
The use of medical cannabis may reduce these symptoms, according to anecdotal evidence, and patients may be less motivated to obtain opioids. In turn, medical cannabis may be more effective at managing withdrawal symptoms than current methods, which often involve substituting one opioid medication for another. However, more evidence is required to prove whether medical cannabis can truly help reduce withdrawal symptoms.
Given the deepening opioid crisis, helping patients eliminate the use of one or more opioid medications entirely seems like a much better plan.
Given these facts, it seems medical cannabis could present a better way of helping people manage opioid dependence and even reduce their need for these medications. The best plan, of course, is to avoid opioid medications and developing a dependence in the first place.