Cannabis Relieves Chronic Pain. Can it Relieve the Opioid Epidemic?

If you’re living with chronic pain, you know how debilitating it can be. Western medicine has yet to provide effective treatment options, leading millions to find relief through opioid painkillers. And opioids are killing 115 Americans every day according to the NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse. While many of those deaths are from heroin overdoses, NIH data shows that 80 percent of heroin users misuse prescription painkillers before turning to heroin, often as a cheaper alternative to pills.
Fortunately, there’s a safer alternative to addictive and all-too-often deadly opioids: cannabis. Cannabis has long been known to alleviate chronic pain and anecdotal evidence abounds. Now, a growing body of research from respected institutions, like the National Academies of Sciences Engineering Medicine (NASEM), concurs.
A 2017 NASEM study aggregates the findings from more than 10,000 scientific abstracts published since 1999. It concludes that patients treated with cannabis or cannabinoids were more likely to experience a significant reduction in pain symptoms. The study also confirms the beneficial effects of cannabis for patients with multiple sclerosis-related muscle spasms and chemotherapy-induced nausea.

Medical Cannabis Laws Linked to Fewer Opioid Deaths

The medical facts are clear, now it’s just a matter of expanding patient access. A 2014  study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that states (like Maine) with medical cannabis laws had significantly fewer opioid overdose deaths per year than states that did not, and that the lower overdose rate generally strengthened each year after the law’s implementation. More recently, a study by the American Journal of Public Health, found that opioid-related deaths in Colorado have fallen by more than six percent since the state legalized recreational cannabis in 2014.
There’s also compelling early evidence that cannabidiol (CBD) can lessen cravings in those trying to break their addiction to pills, according to a study published in Neurotherapeutics, the journal of the American Society for Experimental NeuroTherapeutics.
With such encouraging news, it seems incongruous that cannabis is still listed as a Schedule I drug—more tightly restricted than cocaine—and that access to medical cannabis is still denied to patients in 21 states.

Turning the Tide on Cannabis

Whether or not lawmakers admit it, medical cannabis is relieving pain and saving lives. It deserves a place in the full spectrum of medical treatments, alongside other holistic approaches.
That’s why Wellness Connection supports the Center for Wellness Leadership, whose mission is to accelerate awareness of beneficial complementary, integrative, and alternative medicine—including cannabis—through education and research. Wellness Connection is a proud sponsor of the Center’s symposium: Integrative Health & Chronic Pain on May 15th at the University of Southern Maine’s Hannaford Hall. Join us to learn more about safe, alternative treatments for chronic pain management.
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