Medical Marijuana and the Opioid Epidemic
Updated: Jan 21
Opioid overdose is currently the number one cause of accidental death in the United States and Canada. This issue will continue to worsen without proper education or means of prevention. But with methods of THC substitution, CBD treatment, and microdosing, medical marijuana can aid in substance abuse issues surrounding the opioid epidemic.
Medical Marijuana can be an effective substitute
According to recent studies conducted at Harvard University and University of Michigan, THC is shown to be as effective with chronic pain relief as opioids because they bind to different receptors in the nervous system and brain that both result in pain relief. Although they share equivalent effectiveness in relieving symptoms, opioids have resulted in many more physically addicting qualities and effects on the mind and body, such as a build up of tolerance and physical symptoms of withdrawal. Medical marijuana has a much lower potential of becoming physically addicting and for this reason (among others), it can be a potential substitute to battle opioid addiction and harmful substance abuse.
CBD and Withdrawal
Normal cycles of addiction occur in a pattern; typically this pattern starts with intoxication, withdrawal when abstaining from harmful substances, and finally - relapse. When chronic opioid users go through withdrawal symptoms, many experience severe musculoskeletal pain leading to further use of opioids. Many believe that with the help of CBD, this cycle of addiction can drastically change. CBD treatment is said to help lessen the pain, anxiety and mood swings associated with the withdrawal and drug abstinence phases of this cycle; it is also completely non-addictive and has been shown to reduce drug cravings amongst those with addiction. New Jersey includes pain from opioid withdrawal as a qualifying condition, under musculoskeletal pain, for the state’s Medical Marijuana Program, with Pennsylvania following closely behind.
Low Doses of Cannabis with Low Doses of Opioids
Although the opioid epidemic is big problem, there are still ways to de-escalate the issue without completely ruling out opioid use. Several studies have shown that low doses of THC (about 5%) taken with low doses of opioids (2.5 mg) can have a synergistic effect equivalent or even more effective than simply taking one or the other individually. With these similar analgesic effects, the use of opioids could be cut in half, decreasing the total amount prescribed, but this is only possible in states that have legalized medical marijuana.
According to a study by JAMA Internal Medicine, states with legalized medical marijuana programs prescribed 2.21 million fewer daily doses of prescribed opioids. Armed with information like this, states have the opportunity to address the opioid crisis by understanding how medical cannabis can make a difference.