Researchers at the University of British Columbia and the B.C. Centre on Substance Abuse recently conducted over 5,000 interviews (1,152 of which used heroin and other narcotics) with candidates whom had struggled with chronic pain between June 2014 and June 2017. ¹Many of those within this study claimed that cannabis was not only safer but also a more effective alternative to opioids for chronic pain.
And science can back this up to some degree as cannabinoids found in marijuana – particularly, CBD and THC – have the ability to help block out pain receptors (more on this below).However, it was recently discovered that these studies were funded by a cannabis company. In turn, there’s a likely chance many of the opinions discussed within this research may be biased for the sake of the current legal cannabis industry in Canada.
The real shame is that much of the Western world has sought an answer to the ever-growing dilemma of the opioid crisis and, for many, cannabis seemed like a reasonable option.Throughout this article, we’re going to offer an overview of the opioid crisis and the study pertaining to cannabis’ involvement within it. From there, we’ll look into how cannabis can help with chronic pain and how effective it is in comparison to traditional opioid medication. At the conclusion, we’ll determine how likely cannabis is as a solution to this epidemic.
The Opioid Crisis – A Growing DilemmaIt’s estimated that more than 130 people die every single day due to an opioid overdose in the United States alone. But the problem itself can be found throughout the Americas and European nations. Particularly, in middle- to upper-class neighborhoods.
This crisis has developed due to the rise in misuse of various opioid drugs, including prescription pain relievers, including heroin and synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl. And the unfortunate truth is, many victims of this epidemic are first introduced to opioids through a medical professional. ²Since the 1990s, pharmaceutical companies have been claiming that patients using prescription opioids for chronic pain are likely not to get addicted. One of the best ways to do this is to properly control how many opioids are given to a person for their chronic pain treatment.
However, as has been the case numerous times, people are being overprescribed these substances and, in turn, left with copious amounts of opioids.
This fact can be seen in the statistics. In 2017, over 47,000 Americans died from an opioid overdose. That same year, it’s estimated that 1.7 million Americans had struggled with a substance abuse disorder related to prescription medication. Another 652,00 were struggling with heroin addiction.
It’s estimated that around 21 to 29% of patients who receive an opioid prescription are likely to misuse them. Since it doesn’t take long for an opioid addiction to begin, many of these people start to struggle with the consequences of substance abuse disorder. In order to feed this addiction, people will take two different routes in order to get more opioids:
1. They’ll “Doctor Shop,” a term used to describe people who actively look for new doctors purely for the sake of receiving prescription medication.
2. They’ll take to the streets and get their opioids through illegal or unprescribed substances, such as heroin.
Throughout the last two decades, we’ve seen a significant increase in both the number of opioid prescriptions being written and the rate of opioid overdoses. So much so, the United States has given it the title of an epidemic. As can be expected, a number of lawmakers have already taken action to prevent this epidemic from furthering. Some of these include:
• Improving access to drug addiction treatment and recovery services
• Making overdose-reversing drugs more accessible
• Advancing better practices for pain management However, very few lawmakers currently believe that cannabis can be used as an alternative to opioid medications. And the fact of the matter is, the science says otherwise.
Research can confirm that cannabis is an all-natural pain relief medication many are already taking advantage of.Mark Ware, MD, assistant professor of anesthesia and family medicine at Montreal’s McGill University evaluated 21 men and women, around the age of 45. Each of these patients had chronic nerve pain (sometimes referred to as neuropathic pain), such as chronic pain caused by cutting a nerve during surgery. ³Each of these patients was given a rotation of four different potencies of marijuana – 9.4% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), 6%, 2.5%, and a placebo. Each potency was given a week at a time, for five days, at three puffs a day. The participants were then asked to rate their pain levels on a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 being the most amount of pain.
When given the highest potency, 9.4%, Ware claims, “They reduced their pain down to 5.4. Those on placebo were at 6.1.”Obviously, this isn’t any significant amount of reduction. However, according to Ware, “any reduction in pain is important.
”To take things further, it’s important to consider the fact that even the highest potency of cannabis within this experience was fairly low. Most of what’s found on the street range from 10% to 15% and medical cannabis has been known to reach potency levels as high as 30%.“We’ve shown again that cannabis is analgesic,” Ware proclaims. “Clearly, it has medical value.
”When THC is consumed, it naturally interacts with the CB1 receptors within our endocannabinoid system (ECS). CB1 receptors have a number of different responsibilities, including the regulation of pain circuits. THC throws the ECS off balance and, through this, has the ability to inhibit the pain signals our brain receives. 4This is why Ware’s study shows us THC has the ability to relieve pain.
However, there’s another cannabinoid that’s been taking the world by storm that also has a similar ability; cannabidiol (CBD).The big difference between THC and CBD is CBD doesn’t attach itself to any specific CB receptor. Instead, it naturally balances out our ECS. With that said, it too has the ability to inhibit the pain signals received by the brain. 5Still, even with all of this said, cannabis isn’t as powerful of a pain reliever as opioids. The fact of the matter is cannabis can help relieve pain, but it doesn’t get rid of it entirely.
And this is one of its fundamental flaws in being the answer to the opioid crisis.Bias Research Corrupting Authentic ScienceAs we discussed in the introduction, the University of British Columbia study that claimed cannabis was a more effective pain reliever than opioids was funded by a cannabis company. It’s safe to say the conclusion of this study was heavily biased for the sake of ending cannabis stigma and promoting cannabis to the mainstream.
Of course, it shouldn’t be ignored that cannabis can act as a pain reliever and is much safer (and less addicting) than traditional opioid treatment. However, to claim that it’s more effective is simply a lie. As Ware’s study shows, cannabis is only effective to a certain degree and doesn’t hold the glory many activists like to give it.
This is the biggest issue when it comes to a discussion of cannabis as pain medication. Those who fight for legalization tend to embellish the facts to favor their opinion – very similar to how those opposed tend to undermine the facts.
If we want to start having a real discussion about cannabis as a medicine, it’s critical we drop these biases for the sake of factual information.
Cannabis can help with pain relief, there’s no doubt about it. However, it’s not going to relieve pain as effectively as opioids. If we want to replace opioids with more natural and less addictive alternatives, then it’s in our best interest to look at other organic pain relievers. And to consider using cannabis alongside these other options.
For example, lavender essential oil and ginger have been found to relieve pain. If we consumed these natural alternatives with cannabis, it holds the potential to be as effective as opioids.
We’re not claiming any certain combination of natural alternatives is the answer to pain relief. Rather, this is the direction the science needs to head. Some CBD companies have already been doing the research on their own – experimenting with various combinations of natural alternatives with full-spectrum CBD extract – and developing some really effective products.
In order to pave the way for the future of medicine – and to help control the opioid crisis much of Western civilization finds itself in – it’s absolutely necessary we drop the debates and take the science for what it is. For it can’t be forgotten that when it comes to proper pain relief treatment, we aren’t merely talking about matters of opinion, we’re talking about life or death situations.
Written and Published By Paul James In Weed World Magazine Issue 145