Opioid epidemic

Can Legal Cannabis Help Slow the Opioid Drug Epidemic in the U.S.?

Imagine stopping 115 needless deaths in the U.S. every day. It’s not a guarantee, but with recent developments in cannabis research, experts believe it could be on the horizon.

Opioid drug overdoses claim those 115 lives every day in this country. About 60% of opioid addictions are rooted in prescription drug use for a number of ailments, ranging from chronic pain to sports-related injuries to personality disorders. That’s where many see cannabis products coming in to help.

“One-hundred fifteen people die every day as a result of opiates nationwide. So from our vantage point, we think cannabis is a sensible solve to a lot of issues,” said Acreage Holdings CEO Kevin Murphy. “I believe it’s going to be the silver bullet over the next 20 to 30 years as it relates to medical.”

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 21% to 29% of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them. Between 8% and 12% develop an opioid use disorder. Opioid overdoses increased 30% from July 2016 through September 2017.

But while the opioid epidemic picked up both momentum and national attention, so too did the spread of regulated medical-use marijuana. Medical cannabis is currently legal in 30 states in the U.S., and has been legal across Canada since 1999.

Female scientist in a hemp field checking plants and flowers, alternative herbal medicine concept

In a 2016 study by Dr. Dustin Sulak, 39% of opioid users who began using cannabis were able to completely stop opioid use and another 39% could reduce their opioid dosage. Sulak found that adding cannabis reduced pain by about 40% in nearly half the treated patients and improved function in 80% of them.

“As an effective treatment for chronic pain, it can stop opiod addiction before it occurs,” said Dr. Sherry Yafai, medical director of High Sobriety in Los Angeles.

Cannabidiol, or CBD, is one of at least 113 cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. It’a not to be confused with tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the cannabinoid in the plant with psychoactive effects. CBD is largely thought to maintain properties of healing and pain relief.

But despite the anecdotal evidence from the likes of celebrities and viral social media apostles of the healing qualities of cannabis plants (see Kiss rocker Gene Simmons talk cannabis with TheStreet below), medical experts say there needs to be more research before cannabis can be billed as the solution to the opioid epidemic.

For one, the cannabis plant is a complex one. Research professionals haven’t yet identified all of the many, many compounds within the plant and how each may contribute to modern medicine. There’s reason to believe CBD and THC, taken separately and together, can help with opioid treatment, withdrawal symptoms and pain management.

As far as opioid use is concerned, cannabis compounds can enhance pain relief and other medical effects of opioid drugs. Taking cannabis with opioids also widens the therapeutic window, or the time between an effective dose of opioids and a lethal dose, Dr. Sulak said. But perhaps the biggest benefit of cannabis as a part of opioid treatment is that it doesn’t carry the risk of overdose.

 

 

 

Source:  The Street