Question the Cannasseur: Why Are Opioids OK, But Cannabis Is Not?

pills and a marijuana leaf

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Last week, we introduced a new segment on Leafbuyer, where we are answering your questions about the cannabis industry. While we focused on matters regarding the changing perceptions of cannabis consumption and dying stereotypes in our first article, this week we're going to take a moment to reflect on how biases still exist despite a growing opioid epidemic in the United States, and why there are still so many questions regarding cannabis use.

Why is Medical Cannabis Seen as Controversial but Medical Opiates Aren’t?

You know, I wish I could have an hour of Jeff Session's time to ask him this same question. In fact, this is the very question which led me to be a cannabis advocate and writer in the first place. I have a vested interest in the opioid epidemic wreaking havoc on the United States, which took the lives of 72,000 people in 2017 because my husband could've been one of those statistics. But thanks to cannabis, my husband walked away from a legally-prescribed opiate addiction in 2016 without so much as a single day of withdrawal.

Critics often say it's because "We don't know the long-term effects of marijuana." Unfortunately, I take great offense to this answer – and here's why:

mother holds the head of a sick child

The doctors, researchers, scientists, pharmacists, and lawmakers ABSOLUTELY know the long-term effects of opiates – and so do the families of the nearly 200 people a day who are dying from these drugs. However, they refuse to offer any alternatives or to even mention cannabis as an option – and I wake up every day to living proof it CAN work.

Out-Dated Mentality

Recently, in comments on a Quora answer of mine, an older gal called me a "drug dealer" because I worked as a budtender in the cannabis industry. Keep in mind, rather than seek out non-traditional forms of pain relief, this woman opted to amputate her leg to end her chronic pain when pharmaceuticals didn't work for her – yet she criticized my husband for using an herbal alternative that helps relieve his chronic cervical neck pain. Unfortunately, amputating my husband's neck just isn't an option.

Sadly, this is a shared mentality of many politicians and lawmakers in the United States. With an average age of 57 and 61 in the House and Senate respectively, we have an aging problem in our legal system. This generation still associates with the Nixon era and the Reagan administration, adhering to Harry Anslinger's false propaganda from many, many decades ago. Additionally, Generation X and the Baby Boomers were generally raised to believe that what your doctor says is gospel, so if he tells you to take a pill for the rest of your life to control pain, that's what you're going to do. However, they also came from a generation where babies were born at home, doctors still made house calls, and pharmaceuticals weren't big business – they were a necessity.

But back then, doctors, pharmacists, and drug makers didn't have private jets or wear Armani suits either.

Capitalism, Greed, and Healthcare

Today, the 450-billion-dollar pharmaceutical industry is a significant source of funding for the U.S. Government. In fact, a report from 2016 showed just in fees alone the U.S. Pharmaceutical Industry paid the FDA 7.67 billion dollars over the last three decades. This doesn't take into consideration any corporate tax revenue or personal income taxes collected on the salaries within the industry. If the pharmaceutical industry loses profits, so does the U.S. Government.

Additionally, illness is big business, too. An article from Reuters about U.S. Healthcare spending stated, "CMS projected that healthcare spending will on average rise 5.5 percent annually from 2017 to 2026 and will comprise 19.7 percent of the U.S. economy in 2026, up from 17.9 percent in 2016. By 2026, health spending is projected to reach $5.7 trillion."

pills and hundred dollar bills

Meanwhile, the top 10 pharmaceutical CEO's reported between 6.6 million and 47 million dollars in annual income for a total nearing 200 million dollars. We can surmise that other C-level salaries are similar in stature, and in last week's article I pointed out how 60 percent of pharmaceutical revenues are invested into marketing to convince consumers they need the drugs in the first place.

So, when policymakers are weighing the risk and reward of cannabis, they also take into consideration the financial impact it could have on the economy; and to lawmakers, the financial risks are more significant than the casualties lost to overdose.

Cannabis legalization threatens their system.

Before discovering a cannabis regimen, my husband and I took 13 prescriptions between the two of us, which required monthly doctor appointments and expensive procedures which cost us thousands out of pocket but cost our insurance company hundreds of thousands of dollars. Which, if you think about it, every healthy person who paid an insurance premium was paid to keep my husband addicted to medications. Since discovering cannabis, my husband has seen a doctor twice, and I haven't needed one at all. So, our medical spending went from hundreds of dollars a month to ZERO.

Imagine what would happen to our economy if everyone discovered their health and wellness through the appropriate use of cannabis like we did. Healthy people don't fuel the national economy through Big Pharma gains.

Why are the effects of marijuana so unpredictable?

The unpredictability is the number one reason why cannabis is so intimidating to new consumers and many medical professionals. Although we are starting to understand the science behind marijuana, much of the information isn't widely distributed, yet. However, there are two parts to this answer:

Your Body Chemistry is Unique

Just as your fingerprint is unique to you, your internal biochemistry is also unique to you. The substances you are exposed to, the foods you consume, your environmental conditions – all play into how your internal body develops. In fact, some foods and chemicals we ingest may even be altering our DNA to impact future generations!

For example, I grew up in the Midwest on a farm that grew corn and soybeans, which means I was exposed to many airborne toxins and groundwater pollution due to my father's farming practices. Exposure to these things likely impacted how my body developed. Meanwhile, someone living in Los Angeles, wouldn't be exposed to herbicides and pesticides, they probably are victim to air pollution like smog. These differences impact how our Endocannabinoid System responds to cannabinoids.

Cannabis is Fickle

The cannabis plant expresses cannabinoid and terpene potency based on its growing environment, and it is a very particular plant. Without consistent conditions throughout the grow room, the same strains of cannabis, in different sections of the same room, can produce wildly different test results. Due to the Entourage Effect, if one plant produces more limonene or myrcene, or any other cannabinoid or terpene, it will alter the effect on the consumer.

The back of a cannabis container shows in-depth testing
Photo by Kristina Etter
Additionally, in an unregulated black market, it's hard telling what you're getting because testing is non-existent. Fortunately, in the legal market, many cannabis producers are starting to add full profile test results on their products. With this information, consumers are going to be able to be much more selective and particular about the effects they prefer.

I believe as the cannabis industry continues to advance, we are going to see much more sophisticated grow rooms and controls. Companies like UrbanGro and Motorleaf, who are adding advanced AI solutions into cultivation facilities are going to help ensure consistent, clean, and compliant cannabis crops to eliminate some of the guesswork.

Answering Your Questions

Thanks for asking such great questions! Want to see your question become a topic? Look me up on Quora, ask a question, and you might find your answer here for the entire Leafbuyer audience to read!