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Can Medical Marijuana help with the Opioid Epidemic?

In the 1990s, the US and Canada experienced an increased use of opioid. This was brought about by the introduction of newer and less stringent measures. Back then, experts discovered that the prescription of opioids for pain relief led to the abuse and addiction of the substance.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevetion, 91 Americans die every day as a result of abusing opioid prescriptions for pain. In the same report, CDC experts discovered that from 1999 to 2016, over 630,000 people died from a drug overdose.

In 2016, CDC experts revealed that 66% of the 63,000 drug overdose cases reported by authorities were as a result of abusing opioids. From the data above, it was discovered that deaths as a result of abusing opioids - both prescription and illegal opioids - was five times higher than in 1999.

About Opioid Addiction

Opioids are potent and pain-relieving drugs also classified as narcotics. Examples of drugs in this class include Fentanyl, heroin, and Oxycodone. So, how do opioids work in the body? As pain-relieving drugs, opioids work by attaching themselves to receptors in the brain. Afterward, they alter how the brain responds to pleasure and pain.

The moment opioids enter your body, you will immediately experience an immediate rush for the first few minutes and afterward, you will experience feelings of calmness and euphoria.

During the first 30 minutes of using opioids, users experience a high as well as certain side effects. Some of the side effects include chronic constipation, extreme cravings, nausea, increased sensitivity to pain, increased sweating, reduced sex drive, and shallow breathing.

Withdrawal symptoms that opioid users will experience include goose bumps, diarrhea, agitation, aching muscles, pupil dilation, stomach cramps, sweating, trouble sleeping, and running nose.

When the side effects are combined with the withdrawal symptoms, it makes one an opioid addict. The other reason why opioids are addictive is that they contain strong addictive substances.

The rise of Opioid Overdose Deaths

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the first wave of opioid overdose started with the increase in opioid prescription. This was in the 1990s. Back then, overdose deaths were as a result of natural and semi-synthetic opioids as well as methadone.

The first wave ended in 1999 and a decade later, the second wave started. During this period, overdose deaths were as a result of heroin as well as prescription opioids.

The third wave started three years after the start of the second wave - 2013. During this period, experts discovered that there was an increase in overdose deaths which involved synthetic opioids. The synthetic opioids were a combination of counterfeit pills, cocaine, and heroin.

Can Marijuana Help in the Fight against Opioid Epidemics

In 2016, opioid abuse killed more people in the US than breast cancer. As a result, the abuse of opioid has led to authorities classifying it as an epidemic. As said earlier, the abuse of opioids started in the early 1990s and since then, it has killed many people in the US.

In an effort to stem the rising cases of opioid abuse and death, experts have turned to marijuana. In a study looking into the association of medical cannabis laws recently implemented in US states and a decline in opioid abuse, researchers discovered that opioid prescriptions reduced by 2.11 million from 23.08 million daily doses every year. This is after more than 29 states in the US legalized the use of medical marijuana which also led to the opening of legal medical marijuana dispensaries.

According to Diana Maron, a medicine and health editor for the Scientific American “If we stopped medical marijuana programs that are now in place in Washington DC and 29 states in the US, science suggests that we would worsen the opioid epidemic.”

In 2016, researchers from the University of Michigan carried out a survey. The findings were published in the Journal of Pain. What the researchers found out was that chronic pain patients who started using marijuana reported a 64% decline when it came to the use of prescription opioids. In addition, they experienced fewer side effects and even enjoyed a better life.

Research shows that heroin users in the US become addicted to opioid prescriptions for pain before turning to heroin. This happens when the opioid prescription pills run out. In addition, this may be brought about by the increase in the price of opioid prescriptions.

In an interview conducted by CNN, a 51-year-old woman revealed that she took a “cocktail of antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, and narcotics.”

The reason she was taking all these meds was to manage pain from a car accident that occurred in 1998. After the accident, the woman had 50 to 60 surgeries but the pain persisted. To manage the pain, the doctors prescribed more painkillers.

After her son suggested marijuana as an alternative to painkillers, her quality of life improved. She started interacting with family members and friends.

In another 2018 study published on the JAMA Network, researchers aimed to study the association between the passing of marijuana laws and the lower rates of opioid abuse.

Researchers relied on prescription data between 2011 and 2016. From the data, they discovered that medical marijuana laws have helped to lower opioid prescription for Medicaid enrollees who are a high-risk population for chronic pain.

Since the over-prescription of opioids is what drives the opioid epidemic in the US, marijuana can be used to relieve pain at a lower risk of addiction with no chances of overdosing.

Final Thoughts

From the multiple studies carried out by researchers, we can agree that medical cannabis can help to lower or even eliminate the opioid epidemic. The problem is many researchers fear the risks involved.

For starters, medical marijuana can be misused. How? It might encourage other users to start experimenting with dangerous drugs. In a study carried out by Dr. Mark Olfson, he discovered that marijuana users are more likely to abuse opioids and other drugs than non-users. From his findings, Mark Olfson discovered that the rate of abusing marijuana is 6 times among users than non users.

To counter this, experts must help users to balance benefits and risks. This will help to fight the opioid epidemic and prevent further abuse.

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