While medical cannabis is becoming more popular in the United States it is still a controversial topic. Some people see cannabis as simply another option for certain medical conditions while others still see it as a gateway drug that will inevitably lead to use of “harder drugs” and criminal behavior. Considering the epidemic of painkiller abuse and related fatalities in the US it seems that finding safer alternatives to opioids should be a priority. The following quote from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website illustrates just how serious the problem has become:
“Nearly three out of four prescription drug overdoses are caused by prescription painkillers—also called opioid pain relievers. The unprecedented rise in overdose deaths in the US parallels a 300% increase since 1999 in the sale of these strong painkillers.4 These drugs were involved in 14,800 overdose deaths in 2008, more than cocaine and heroin combined.4 ”
I certainly don’t believe that people with legitimate needs for pain medications should be denied access to them. However patients in the US are prescribed painkillers more often than patients in any other countries. There are likely many factors that contribute to this but the bottom line is opioids are dangerous and have become a major health and safety problem.
Not only are opioids highly addictive and have unpleasant side effects (nausea, constipation, memory and concentration problems, etc.) but for certain types of pain conditions they are not particularly effective. When pain is caused by damage to the central or peripheral nervous system it can be very difficult to relieve that pain.
In a double blind, placebo controlled study published by The Journal of Pain patients who were still having neuoropathic pain despite traditional treatments were able to achieve a reduction in pain by vaporizing low doses of cannabis. And what I personally found most exciting about this study was that the doses of cannabis used were low enough to not produce significant psychoactive side effects. This implies that patients could get the benefit of pain relief without having a negative impact on cognitive abilities.
Another clinical double blind study published in the European Journal of Pain had similar success in helping treatment resistant patients by using a mix of two components of cannabis in the form of a liquid patients sprayed in their mouth. They reported that “clinically important improvements in pain, sleep quality and SGIC of the severity of their condition are obtained with THC/CBD spray.”
While I was using painkillers after my surgery to help with my nerve pain I was frustrated because it never fully relived the pain and I still had trouble sleeping, walking and standing at times. People looking for pain relief are not looking to get “high”. We just want to live a happy, productive life like anyone else. Instead of demonizing a plant that may be safer and more effective than current pain medications we should be encouraging more studies on the pros and cons of medical cannabis and treat it like any other medication.