Can Medical Marijuana Reduce Opioid Use in Canada?

Opioid-related deaths are up. Is marijuana the answer? The opioid epidemic in North America shows no sign of slowing down. Doctors believe cannabis is one viable option to combat the crisis. Here’s how medical marijuana is helping reduce opioid use in Canada.

The Problem with Opioids

The opioid epidemic has spread like wildfire across North America. In 2017, Canada broke a national record for opioid-related deaths. The number of deaths from January to September alone surpassed the total deaths in 2016. The high number of overdoses and its addictive properties have made it one of the worst prescriptions for patients.

For a long time, opioids were the go-to pain medications prescribed by doctors to treat symptoms of chronic pain and related issues. Today, it’s responsible for deadly side effects and addiction. This strong pain relief medication has now caused detrimental recourse, leaving patients highly addicted to the drug. It may have beginnings as a legitimate prescription to manage pain but, over time, it’s become an epidemic.

Opioids’ harmful impact has left many wondering what better options exist for treating and relieving pain. Medical marijuana is one possible alternative. A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine highlighted how states in the U.S. that have legalized marijuana show a lower number of opiate deaths than states that haven’t. While results are inconclusive regarding whether this is directly caused by cannabis itself, it’s a hopeful sign in an otherwise bleak landscape.

No Need for Continual Increases

Opioids bind to the body’s opioid receptors. Cannabis binds to the cannabinoid receptors, the body’s internal pain relief system. Both medical marijuana and opioids provide pain relief. Both use similar pathways in the body. Both release dopamine in the brain’s reward path, which results in patients feeling the sense of pleasure from taking the medication. However, it’s been noted that taking marijuana instead of opioids may pre-empt the rewarding effects opiates generate, therefore decreasing the patient’s need to reach for that drug.

Although both cannabinoid and opioid receptors rely on common signaling pathways, marijuana has very low potential for addiction and an almost non-existent likelihood of overdose—compare this with opioids, where the possibility of addiction and overdose is incredibly high.

Patients using opioids eventually need their dosage raised because their bodies become accustomed to their current intake. Patients authorized medical cannabis don’t develop the same reaction. They can continue taking the same dose and feel the same amount of relief.

A Safer Alternative

Opioid withdrawal is a painful process. Patients may experience insomnia, nausea, restlessness, and vomiting, among other side effects. It may even lead to death. Those authorized marijuana, however, don’t experience those effects. Marijuana provides the same effective relief without addictive qualities.

In studies, patients who substituted opioids for cannabis reportedly experienced fewer side symptoms, and they felt safer using this authorization instead of the traditional drug prescribed. While the patients who switched to medical marijuana still experienced some minor effects, they felt a sense of relief and in better control of their symptoms while treating their conditions.

Marijuana could be a valuable alternative. Even if additional pain relief alternatives exist, years of science and research are needed to develop a marketable solution. Meanwhile, thousands of Canadians are already reaping the benefits of medical cannabis. This solution presents itself as a viable means of helping users fight opioid addiction.

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