Whether caused by injury, nerve damage, cancer treatment, repetitive motion or any number of other potential causes, millions of Americans deal with chronic pain. Unfortunately, doctors have relatively few weapons available to treat the scourge of persistent pain, and most people whose pain cannot be controlled by over-the-counter medications have only hope: Opioid painkillers.
The Undeniable Value of Opioids
In many ways, opioids are wonderful drugs, whose value cannot be overstated for severe pain; but this salvation comes at a price. Opioids cause a litany of side effects, which may make the treatment nearly as bad as the pain. Opioid painkillers make many users dizzy, drowsy or nauseous, which often necessitates the use of additional medications.
Additionally, opioid painkillers are notorious for causing severe constipation, which may also require the use of even more medications.
Tolerance is another serious problem with opioid painkillers. After taking opioids for even a short period of time, many users find that they need to consume increasingly larger doses to achieve the same level of pain relief.
At a point, many sufferers become physically and mentally dependent on these opioids – they are, after all, among the most addictive compounds in the world. They start becoming physically ill when unable to meet their body’s ever-increasing thirst for the opioids, and enter a downward spiral that is difficult to escape.
The Quest for Alternatives
Obviously, researchers, patients, and doctors are keen to embrace other, safer pain-killing options for chronic pain. While there are not many pain-killing drugs coming down the pharmaceutical pipeline, Mother Nature invented a very effective painkiller millions of years ago, in the form of a small, tropical shrub.
Cannabis users have long recognized the potent pain-killing properties of their favorite plant, and western medicine is starting to take notice. A wealth of data on the use of cannabis to treat pain is available, and while no one is declaring it to be a miracle drug, it obviously has legitimate medicinal use in the treatment of pain. While cannabis will never replace morphine in a trauma center, it may very well find its way onto the shelves of pain clinics and general practitioners.
Cannabis: A Safer Alternative to Opioids
Authorities recognize the dangers of opioids quite well, and they’ve taken great steps to crack down on recreational use and the illicit trade of these powerful drugs. But unfortunately, this has made it very difficult for patients to obtain the medications they need, from doctors who are increasingly reluctant to prescribe these highly regulated drugs.
Yet while it makes sense to control opioid painkillers very strictly, cannabis does not require a similar level of caution. To the best of science’ knowledge, it is effectively impossible to overdose on cannabis, and it is safer than many other commonly consumed substances, including commonly prescribed medications. Further, cannabis does not cause physical dependency, nor the negative side effects often associated with long-term opioid use.
States that have recognized the value of medicinal marijuana, and legalized such use, have benefitted greatly from their efforts. According to a 2014 study, these states have averaged 25 percent fewer opioid-induced overdoses each year.