Opioids and Cannabis: The widely-accepted facts, plus new studies

Opioids and Cannabis: The widely-accepted facts, plus new studies

Every day, across America, over 115 people die from opioid overdoses. Due to this epidemic, doctors and researchers are scrambling to find alternatives to opioid painkillers.

In 2016, at least 50,000 people died of opioid overdoses, reports the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Opioids are now the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50. Nearly 80% of heroin users started with prescription drugs, NIDA reports.

Neither cannabis or opium, from which opioids are made, are new to the world of medicine. Cannabis was used to treat many symptoms for  the past 4,000 years. Opium goes back even further than that. By the 18th century, it was common knowledge that opium could be habit-forming.

Cannabis remained an accepted folk remedy, until it was federally banned in 1937. Most people kept a variety of pain remedies in the medicine cabinet until the 1990s. That’s when drug companies and lobbyists promulgated the idea that opioids were not addictive. With FDA approval, doctors began to prescribe opioids for aches and pains, surgeries, and all kinds of injuries. Today, we have an epidemic, with a staggering death toll.

Some experts  are working on finding alternatives for people to manage their pain. Research is uncovering the potential of cannabidiol (CBD)  to replace opioids. A study from the University of Michigan found CBD to decrease side effects of other medicines, improve overall quality of life, and reduce the use of opioids. A paper in the Journal of Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research reported that the majority of the 2,897 patients in the study reported that CBD was just as effective, or more effective, than opioids — and they didn’t have to deal with the side effects, including the possibility of sudden death.

Other common side effects include: constipation, drowsiness, nausea, anxiety, irritability, muscle pain, depression, respiratory depression, liver damage, insomnia, addiction, withdrawals, social problems and danger of death due to overdose or suicide. Addiction complications include moving to higher and higher doses, or moving to heavier drugs, with people often times going into a downward spiral, going into a rehabilitation facility and living as a recovering addict, with dangerous relapses.

What about cannabinoids? Some side effects can be dry mouth, red eyes, low appetite, increased heart rate and/ or low blood pressure. These side effects are usually seen when people are taking high doses, or in combination with other medicines, such as a blood thinner or statin. It is always wise to check with your doctor about interactions with the medicines you currently take.  

As scientists and researchers continue to look for alternatives to managing pain, CBD is currently proving  to be an appealing choice. In other promising news, a study conducted by the Scripps Research Institute, funded by the National Institute of Health, found promising results that CBD may help reduce the risk of drug and alcohol relapse. The results also showed a reduction in anxiety and impulsivity, two traits which are often associated with drug dependence.