It’s estimated that over 100 million Americans suffer with some form of chronic pain at any one time. This pain can come in many forms and have debilitating effects on patients. In fact, chronic pain is the top cause of disability in the United States today.
The fact that chronic pain is so common in the United States today has led to the opioid crisis. This opioid crisis is the extremely high level of dependence on opioid pain medications that many Americans have developed.
Many vocal advocates argue that cannabis could be the solution to the opioid crisis. They claim that cannabis can be used as a safer, less addictive and equally effective pain medication. Maine looks set to become the first state to allow cannabis prescriptions for opioid dependence.
The use of medical cannabis, or medical marijuana, for chronic pain is not a new phenomenon. Over the decades, chronic pain has been the number one condition for which medical cannabis has been used. Despite attempts by successive American governments to eradicate cannabis use nationwide, it’s use in the treatment of pain persisted.
Despite what some people believe, there is good reason for this. Scientific research has unveiled a great deal about the drug in recent years. One of the most consistent findings among researchers is that cannabis does relieve pain.
As a result of this ongoing research effort, some states have taken the step of legalizing medical cannabis. Legislators have responded to public demand in their states. They have bowed to pressure and approved the drug as a treatment for a whole host of medical conditions. Yet, it is only recently that medical professionals have begun to consider the use of cannabis as an opioid substitute for pain management.
Chronic pain is described as pain which is persistent for more than 12 weeks. This pain can be caused by a whole host of diseases and medical conditions. The most common types of chronic pain in the United States today are:
Some forms of chronic pain can be caused by an untreated injury, such as back pain. Others are the result of an underlying condition. Multiple sclerosis, for example, causes unyielding muscle and joint pain for patients.
In terms of the actual sensation of chronic pain, neuropathic pain is the most common. This kind of pain can feel like a burning, shooting, stabbing, tingling type of pain. Nociceptive pain, on the other hand, causes an aching or boring pain and visceral pain causes a dull, throbbing sensation.
For those who suffer from chronic pain on a daily basis, finding pain relief that’s not only effective but also safe can have a huge impact on their quality of life, health and wellness.
For many years, opioids were the best solution to this problem. Or at least, so they seemed. However, prescription drug abuse has become an enormous problem in the United States today. Research by Talbott Recovery indicates that an estimated 54 million American citizens have used prescription drugs for non-medical purposes.
The most abused prescription medication is pain medicine. This abuse resulted in approximately 49,000 of the 72,000 deaths caused by drug overdose in 2017. Drug overdoses have become one of the top killers of Americans under the age of 50. Opioid overdoses account for two thirds of these deaths every year.
However, despite the overwhelming evidence of the dangers of opioid use, they remain popular today. Their potency and effectiveness at relieving pain makes them the most common pain relief method among patients of chronic pain.
Thankfully though, patients are becoming more aware than ever before of the negative side effects of this method of pain management. As a result, many are turning to medical marijuana as an alternative.
The endocannabinoid system is a complex network of receptors which are scattered throughout the nervous system. It was discovered in the 1990’s and has since then been studied extensively. What researchers have discovered has truly legitimized the use of cannabis for medical purposes. Here’s why.
The endocannabinoid system produces and process a special set of chemicals. These chemicals are known as cannabinoids. Cannabinoids interact with receptors to trigger reactions in the body.
Cannabis also contains these chemicals. By using cannabis, the endocannabinoid system is strengthened. This means that it can carry out its functions more effectively. These functions include many things, such as appetite, sleep, mood and pain. The endocannabinoid system regulates these bodily functions and restores balance to them.
Clinical trials have proven that the cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant act as a powerful supplement to the endocannabinoid system. When used, cannabinoids such as cannabidiol (CBD) can have a remarkable impact on pain and the patients who suffer from it.
Many people continue to be skeptical of the merits of medical cannabis today. They cite the addictive nature of the cannabis plant as their primary concern. Some also claim that the physical side effects of cannabis use can be just as serious as those of opioid use. However, there is no evidence to back this up.
In addition to being highly addictive, opioids sedate the part of the brain which controls breathing. As a result, opioid use can lead to respiratory depression and respiratory failure. They can also cause nausea and vomiting, constipation, bowel dysfunction, narcotic-induced hypersensitivity, cardiac arrhythmias and heart attacks.
Conversely, very few physical side effects of cannabis use have been recorded. Of course, smoking cannabis can have damaging effects on the lungs and the respiratory system in general.
However, most patients who use medical cannabis pain treatments don’t smoke it. Other side effects include some dry mouth, lightheadedness and drowsiness. Yet even these side effects can be negligible depending on which strain of the cannabis plant is used.
Another argument against cannabis use as an opioid substitute is based on the psychoactive effects of the plant. However, once again this argument is ill-conceived. Over the years, cannabis growers have designed and produced specific strains of the cannabis sativa plant. Each strain is uniquely bred to contain different properties. Many have been bred to cause no “high” whatsoever.
Whether or not you support the legalization of medical marijuana or medical cannabis in America, the scientific evidence of its relative safety in comparison to opioids is hard to deny. So too, is the evidence that cannabis can be highly effective at pain management for all forms of chronic pain.
The body of evidence in support of using marijuana for chronic pain is growing. It’s encouraging to see states such as Maine taking steps towards its legalization through increasingly liberal marijuana laws. Today, the number of states where marijuana is legal stands at an all-time high. By all accounts, this number is set to continue to grow.
It appears that medical cannabis pain management is becoming more popular than ever, according to statisticians. It’s reasonable to assume that cannabis will play an important role in the future of chronic pain treatment. However, no matter how positive the research may be, states must reform their marijuana laws in order to change treatment practices.
Maine would be the first to individually add opiate addiction as a qualifying condition, according to the Maine Medical Association. This would be a major step forward for chronic pain patients in the state. It would also open up opportunities for even more research into cannabis pain management. Hopefully, Maine represents just the first of many states who plan on taking this step in the years to come.