In just a few years, cannabis has gone from being a forbidden plant to an accepted treatment for all sorts of illnesses—and now, researchers are discovering that it’s also a solution to one of our country’s most pressing health problems: The opioid crisis.
What Is The Opioid Crisis?
The opioid crisis is a global problem, with an estimated 26–36 million people worldwide abusing opioids. Unfortunately for Americans, though, the bulk of the problem exists right in our own backyards. The United States consumes 80% of the world’s supply of prescription opioid analgesics (POAs), and opioid prescriptions have climbed by 300% since 1991. The opioid crisis has been devastating to communities across the nation. It began when pharmaceutical companies reassured the medical community that patients would not become addicted to opioid pain relievers in the 1990s. Doctors started prescribing opioids at an alarming rate, leading to devastating results. Since 1999, more than 1 million people have died from overdoses involving opioids alone.
In the US, 115 people die every day of an opioid-related cause—and this number is only getting worse thanks to the rise of synthetic opioids like fentanyl. Fentanyl is one of the most dangerous drugs in circulation today. Prescription opioids can be extremely addictive—leading people who become addicted to them to seek out street versions like heroin instead of seeking help for their addictions. Fentanyl, for example, is a synthetic opiate that is up to 100 times more potent than morphine and 30-50 times more potent than heroin. It is often mixed with heroin or other drugs without users’ knowledge—leading to an increase in overdoses.
The Unsurprising Solution
There is a solution to the opioid crisis.
It’s not hard to find, really. It’s right in front of us. We’ve known about it for years and yet we’ve been too afraid to admit it: cannabis is a proven pain management tool that can help people get off dangerous drugs like opioids, which have caused so much harm in our country.
Medical cannabis has been used as a substitute for prescription or illegal drugs by 66% of users, according to a survey from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. This means that many of the people who are dependent on opioids are already using cannabis as a substitute. In fact, several studies have shown that adjunct cannabis decreases opioid consumption or prevents opioid dose escalation. One study even found that states with medical marijuana laws had lower rates of POM-associated mortality than those without them.
People want to get off opioids. No one wants to be a slave to drugs. They want their lives back, but the widespread prevalence of misuse, relapse, and overdose means that traditional opioid replacement therapies such as methadone or buprenorphine are barely meeting consumer demand, let alone solving anything.
With the demand for these services far outweighing the supply and access, the development of novel, alternative, or adjunct OUD treatment therapies is long past necessary—and cannabis is one of the best solutions we have.
While cannabis is not a new solution to the opioid crisis, it certainly is a clear one. If doctors prescribed more weed and less oxycontin, fewer people would die every year. Unfortunately, big pharma is running the show and it will likely make it difficult for cannabis to exist as an official medical drug. For now, legalizing medical use is a great first step—medical marijuana is legal in 37 states and DC. Hopefully, more will follow suit, and we can start to see the opioid crisis as more of an unpleasant chapter in history than daily lives.
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