Has it ever struck you as strange that almost fifty thousand Americans die every year from opioid overdose? But cannabis remains the veritable “bad guy” in the war against drugs? There has yet to be one single case of overdose death, where cannabis was the only drug consumed.
Welcome to the politics of drugs in the United States. It doesn’t make sense. Every year millions of Americans could become addicted to opioid medications. —yet the war on drugs continues to be waged on cannabis; opioids are still legally sold.
Physicians have new restrictions as to how many pills and refills they can provide patients. That has been the mainstream response to the National opioid crisis—tighter controls on how many opioids to reduce prescription rates.
But it did little to dent the staggering number of opioid prescriptions. In 2016, for example, there were 214,881,622 prescriptions provided to patients, according to the CDC. That was a rate of 66.5 cripts for opioids per 100 Americans! By 2019, some progress has been made. Doctors wrote 153,260,450 prescriptions for the drugs, at a rate of 46.7 per 100 Americans. The numbers are alarming.
With medical marijuana programs established in thirty-six (36) states, cannabis could become the secret weapon that helps us win the opioid epidemic. Some clinical evidence suggests that cannabis can provide a safer and more effective option for pain management. The healing herb may also be vital to helping patients step-down from opioid addiction.
The Criminal Conspiracy Behind America’s Opioid Epidemic
Pharmaceutical companies said that opioids were safe? Well, the truth is that Big Pharma is never 100% sure that a compounded drug won’t cause long-term damage. And that is because they are not required to submit clinical studies that are longer than ten years in duration.
In some countries like the United Kingdom or Canada, drug trials can take up to fifteen (15) years before approvals. But in the United States, a pharmaceutical company can speed through approvals in less than half that time. The average drug completes mandatory trials and FDA approval in about seven years.
There are also special circumstances where the FDA can also ‘fast track’ a drug. One of the most prolific and harmful opioid medications (Oxycontin) was fast-tracked by the FDA. Oxycontin was marketed aggressively by the Sacklers and Purdue Pharma.
In November 2020, Purdue pleaded guilty to fraud charges and violating the Federal Anti-Kickback Statute. The civil settlement to the United States Federal Government was a recovery payment of $2.8 billion. In addition, the Sackler Family was ordered to pay $225 million in damages. The settlement was to resolve their violation of the False Claims Act.
There was sufficient evidence to prove that the potential dangers of opioid medications were withheld. From patients and practitioners. The massive marketing campaign and ‘free trips for doctors’ exposed millions of Americans to a potentially lethal drug. And for some patients, accidental overdose led to a tragic end.
Why Opioid Addiction is Now a National Crisis
Pharmaceutical companies sold a promise to patients suffering chronic pain. When the most prevalent opioid medications were distributed across America, no one understood the long-term impact of those drugs. And the ones that developed the drugs who knew were unable or unwilling to say anything about it.
Today, with more research prompted by America’s opioid epidemic (the term used by the World Health Organization), we know the following things about opioid medications:
- They are highly addictive. And addiction does not always require long-term use.
- Over time, opioids can increase pain sensitivity for patients. When used over a long-term period, opioids can amplify the pain. Stronger doses (to offset growing pain symptoms) can escalate this side-effect.
- Some types of opioids like Fentanyl can be fifty (50) times more addictive than heroin. Prescription pain medications contribute to more than
- Side-effects like drowsiness and mental fog can increase falling injuries for seniors.
- Nausea and chronic constipation are common side-effects.
The most alarming cost of using opioid medications has been the sharp increase in overdose deaths. Opioids were involved in 47,600 overdose deaths in 2017. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, deaths from opioid use more than doubled from 2010 to 2017. In 2018, there were 46,802 deaths from opioid abuse. And in 2019, 49,860 Americans died from an opioid overdose.
The first response to the opioid epidemic was to reduce prescription rates to patients. But that has not solved the problem, as overdose deaths are increasing annually.
How Effective Is Cannabis for Chronic Pain and Relief of Anxiety?
A survey was published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2014. While it was a small sample of participants (95), the results started an important conversation. Could cannabis successfully replace opioid prescriptions and provide effective pain management?
The study confirmed that people prefer Indica strains of cannabis for pain management and sleep. While Sativa strains are used to improve mood and reduce stress. Basic stuff that most people who smoke cannabis already know.
But the study also confirmed that for conditions like neuropathy, spasticity (muscle spasms), non-migraine chronic headaches, and joint pain, cannabis could provide relief. And while no scientific evidence suggests specific strains for symptom management, the popularity of medical cannabis provides proof.
The year 2020 saw record-breaking sales in almost every state that had legalized cannabis. And it wasn’t just the states that offered recreational (adult-use) cannabis either. The pandemic is the reason why more people are buying weed—and getting their medical card.
Many Sativa strains are very effective at producing a euphoric effect. They can make you feel happy, relaxed, and… anxiety? What anxiety? It is difficult to explain to anyone who hasn’t tried a Sativa. It doesn’t just make you goofy; you get a mental break from your problems.
The Fading Social Stigma About Weed
The unexpected political shift in power may put federal legalization as a top priority. And while the very first priority is grappling with the Covid-19 health emergency, pot is on the docket. Because the feds and states know they need more money in their pocket right now. To offset pandemic related economic losses.
Even as the new federal leadership discusses cannabis legalization, the mainstream tipping point for weed has already occurred. Thirty-six states legalized. The remaining states are very likely to move forward to legalize medical cannabis in their jurisdictions.
The culture in America has also radically changed. When it comes to opinions about cannabis, in the 1950s, Ward Cleaver poured himself two fingers of Scotch after dinner; today, he might break out a pre-roll. Or take a couple of drops of a THC and CBD tincture.
We imagine that Ward would keep the cannabis on the down-low. Even if he had a medical card, as would grandparents who grew up in the Anslinger era of prohibition and racially motivated propaganda about weed. America is catching up with other countries like Canada, which have successfully legalized cannabis as a controlled substance.
Will we see addiction therapy clinics that offer cannabis step-down treatments? They are already here and operating in states that permit medical cannabis. A natural alternative to pain management and a method to significantly reduce opioid injuries and deaths.
About the Author:
Lori Reese is from Toronto, Canada, and a passionate advocate for patients with rare and chronic diseases, and access to alternative medicine. She has a background in pharmaceutical and health regulation in Canada and the United States. Lori is the Content Marketing Manager for MarijuanaDoctors.com, America’s leading medical cannabis online resource since 2010.