From 2001 to present day 2017, the opioid epidemic has led to the death of over 183,000 Americans. It’s even more jarring to know that this number continues to rise every day. Furthermore, just last week, the president declared the opioid overdose concern a “public health emergency,” which has skyrocketed the importance of this circumstance to the forefront of issues Americans needs to solve. Naturally, legislators and health officials have been frantically attempting to find solutions that can halt this epidemic.
One particular solution that has garnered a bit of attention is the idea of replacing the use of opioids with medical marijuana, and also using marijuana to help recovering addicts during their withdrawal and recovery period. But since the legalization of marijuana in several states, legislatures, and public leaders have been debating whether or not marijuana can truly hold a trustworthy position in the medical community, let alone help an epidemic.
How can Cannabis Help?
On the surface, marijuana and opioids share similarities. Both can induce their user into a tranquil or euphoric state and diminish pain both mentally and physically, thanks to their effects on the sympathetic nervous system. However, like all medications, they have the ability to make an individual develop an addiction to them and cause them to experience withdrawal symptoms. However, when looking at marijuana and opioids as two separate entities, they are starkly different.
Marijuana reduces anxiety and puts the user in a temporary, but calm, state. Opioids, on the other hand, not only reduce pain and anxiety altogether, it completely suffocates the brain with an alarmingly powerful euphoria-like state. The spectrum of pleasure, lack of pain, and effects derived from these two substances are on completely different ends of the scale. Marijuana alters brain function by targeting the senses, slowing down physical reactions, and troubling its user by impeding basic thinking. Unfortunately and truthfully, it can negatively impact brain development if consistently used from a young age, but short-time use is not detrimental.
Opioids have much more violent effects on the brain and body. They are sedative and put the user at a high risk of developing major depression. Organs also suffer threatening consequences: veins in the bloodstream can collapse, the heart is prone to failing unexpectedly, and lungs are prone to respiratory depression – a lethal occurrence that slows down breathing.
How Does Marijuana Curb Addiction?
With multiple studies, it has shown to be a promising solution. It has the ability to intercept reward receptors and diminish anxiety in the brain and reduce the desire for opioid consumption, thus slightly lowering the chance of reoccurring addictive behaviors and tendencies. Data has also shown that states who have legalized marijuana during the rise of opioid addictions have shown a 25% reduction in overdoses. In 2009, a study was established by Amanda Reiman, author of “Cannabis as a Substitute for Alcohol and Other Drugs,” that surveyed medical patients who use cannabis in conjunction with their current recovery methods and concluded that medical marijuana is a viable method of reducing opioid addiction.
Lastly, with long-time marijuana use, the withdrawal symptoms are more forgiving, unlike the withdrawal symptoms from opioids. The user suffers short-time emotional and physical strain, such as irritability, anxiety, sweating, nausea, headaches, and fluctuating appetite habits. However, this period only lasts for a few days or weeks, even if the user has used marijuana for years. They can simply carry on with their lives as normal by paying extra attention to their health habits.
Comparatively, opioid abuse withdrawal time spans from months to a year, with aggressively intenser symptoms and relapses – like having an uncontrollable craving for opioids, nausea and vomiting episodes, depression, insomnia, and hypertension. External help and internal motivation are necessary for overcoming these symptoms. One is extremely encouraged to seek psychiatric assistance, take medication, and utilize therapy. Marijuana doesn’t take all the discomfort of previous addiction away, but it has less impact if one suffers withdrawal, and makes up for that by decreasing one’s opioid desire and provides an alternative measure that equally handles pain.
Marijuana Alone Cannot Solve the Problem
While marijuana seems like a highly possible solution to the opioid epidemic, it certainly is not the ultimate one – but it is reliable and can be examined, and its theory can be tested with further research. Conclusively, Researchers have deliberately looked for multiple ways as to how to solve the epidemic such as removing opioids from the market all-together or tightening the regulations that doctors are given in order to reduce the constant. This will almost stop mindless distribution of opioids to patients, and help them find new routes of medications that can curb addictive behaviors.
A medicine like marijuana, one that can replace opioids with much safer substances that are specifically formulated so that they cannot be abused. Therefore, it just goes to show that many solutions have been brought to the table and one is just as plausible as the other, and marijuana has made its mark as being a safe option.