Many people most likely know or love someone who is currently struggling with opioid addiction.The National Safety Council recently published an alarming study which reports that people are now more likely to die from an accidental opioid overdose than from a motor vehicle accident. (1) There has lately been an exponential surge in the rate of opioid-related deaths; 2016 – 2017 saw at least 45 states report a 30% rise in opioid overdoses, while areas in the midwest saw increases that were as high as 70%. (2) The problem has been significantly amplified by the medical industry’s tendency of prescribing opiate-derived pain medication to people who are afflicted with chronic or severe pain. Statistics show that around 21-29% of patients who are treated with opioids end up misusing them, and that 80% of people who suffer from heroin addiction had initially started with prescription opioids. (2) The United States alone consumes up to 80% of the world’s supply of prescription opiates, and prescriptions have risen over 300% since 1991. (3)

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The question is, how do we prevent the opioid crisis from continually growing worse when the medical community still regards opioids as the most effective method for treating severe pain? How can patients who are prescribed opioids prevent themselves from becoming addicted? There has been extensive research conducted on alternative methods of pain relief to counteract the opioid epidemic — part of which includes studies on the use of Cannabidiol (CBD) derived from cannabis as an intervention for addictive behaviors. (4) A study released in 2018 explored the potential for CBD to not only replace opiates as an effective pain reliever, but also as a method for alleviating opioid symptoms of withdrawal in addition to helping prevent drug relapses. (3) The study concluded that “the compelling nature of these data and the relative safety profile of cannabis warrant further exploration of cannabis as an adjunct or alternative treatment for OUD.” (Opioid Use Disorder) (3)

Cannabinoids and opiates affect us because our bodies have both endocannabinoid and opioidergic systems, which means there are specific receptors in our brain that are regulated by each of these systems. Endocannabinoid and opioidergic systems often interact with each other — their associated receptors are found in the same parts of the brain and both play a role in the body’s reward systems that are related to addiction; the endocannabinoid system works in part by modulating the opioid system to utilize its analgesic properties. (5) A 2014 study reported that states which have legalized medical marijuana experienced a decrease in opioid-related deaths. (6)

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Despite the fact that official research with regard to the effectiveness of CBD is finally becoming prevalent, historical records indicate that that humans were utilizing the medicinal properties of cannabis thousands of years ago; (7) it was only as recently as 1937 that the United States federal government took the first steps to regulate against the use of cannabis with the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act. Many historians believe that the government’s primary reasons for doing this was to protect the financial interests of companies who stood to gain from the prohibition of cannabis as well as being used as a method for controlling the behavior of Mexican immigrants, who brought with them their habit of smoking it for recreation. (8)

We need to address the opioid crisis in a new, realistic way.  The cost of prohibition has been extremely high, as unnecessary restrictions have actively prohibited the medical community from conducting crucial research into the potential benefits of cannabis. (7) 

References

1. https://injuryfacts.nsc.org/all-injuries/preventable-death-overview/odds-of-dying/
2. https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids/opioid-overdose-crisis#seven
3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6135562/
4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4444130/
5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4318341/
6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25154332/
7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5312634/
8. https://www.history.com/news/why-the-u-s-made-marijuana-illegal

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