For decades now, the United States has suffered through an opioid crisis. There’s an overabundance of prescriptions for opioid medications, which can lead to misuse and abuse. The CDC reports that more than 500,000 people died from opioid overdoses from 1999-2020. While many Americans use opioids in the prescribed amounts for pain management, stress relief, or even as a sleep aid, researchers continue to look for safer alternatives.
In the last few years, medical marijuana has increased in popularity, and some doctors have suggested that medical marijuana may help resolve the opioid crisis. But is there really a link between medical cannabis and opioids? Here’s the latest research.
Opioid Abuse by the Numbers
While opioid addiction and abuse has been an issue since the 1990s, it was only declared a public health emergency in 2017. In 2019 and 2020, The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reported that 1.6 mqillion people had an opioid use disorder and 10.1 million people misused prescription opioids.
The HHS also noted that among a group of misusers studied, 11% of them misused opioids in order to “feel good or get high” and 46% misused opioids to relax or relieve tension. Some critics of medical cannabis have suggested that it could be misused for the same reasons as opioids, namely to get high. But unlike cannabis, opioids have numerous harmful side effects including nausea, labored breathing, drowsiness, and confusion.
Some of the most commonly abused prescription opioids include:
- Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
- Oxycodone (Oxycontin, Percocet)
And some of the most commonly abused over-the-counter, non-prescription, or completely illegal opioids include:
- Dextromethorphan (NyQuil, Robitussin, TheraFlu), which is chemically related to codeine
- Fentanyl (both prescribed and found illegally outside of a medical context)
Many of these opioids are prescribed for pain relief after an operation, procedure, or another traumatic event resulting in acute or chronic pain. Yet medical researchers have found that frequent use of opioids slows the body’s production of endorphins. In other words, a patient stops “feeling good,” and they often will increase their dosage to achieve the same mental and emotional relief as before. This rapid escalation is one reason that opioids are so easily abused.
In response, many researchers have found that medical cannabis and opioids can have a positive relationship. Whether used to replace opioids or used hand-in-hand with them, medical cannabis can limit the dependency on opioids for some patients by providing an alternative approach to pain relief.
Does Marijuana Reduce the Rates of Opioid Abuse and Overdose?
Research suggests that medical marijuana can help reduce opioid addiction and overdose. Medical cannabis access has been researched extensively and is associated with reduced instances of opioid misuse, opioid-related overdoses and deaths, and other opioid-related accidents and hospitalizations.
In a study conducted at the University of Arizona, medical cannabis and opioids proved to be positively linked. In a series of nine studies with over 7,000 participants, there was a 64-75% reduction in opioid dosage when medical cannabis was used in conjunction with opioids. 32-59% of the participants completely eliminated their opioid usage, opting for medical marijuana instead.
Similarly, a group of researchers at the Florida State University College of Medicine asserted that medical marijuana could reduce the harm of the opioid crisis. Among over 2,000 participants, 79% of them either completely stopped or reduced pain medication use after the introduction of medical cannabis at the beginning of the study; 11% were able to improve their overall functioning.
In other areas of the world, medical cannabis and opioids have also been studied—with positive results. Researchers from the Center for Alcohol and Drug Research at Aarhus University in Denmark ran an experiment with nearly 3,000 participants. They monitored participants who intended to replace a prescribed medication with marijuana, and the results are promising. 38% of participants completely stopped using opioids during the study, and 46% of participants reported a significant decrease in opioid use.
And perhaps the most notable numbers from this study at Aarhus University: 66% of participants found medical marijuana significantly more effective than prescription drugs, and 85% of participants agreed that the side effects of medical marijuana were far less inhibiting than those of opioids.
There is also research pointing towards the reduction of opioid-related emergency room visits in states that legalize recreational marijuana. The University of Pittsburgh found that legal cannabis seemed to result in a 7.6% decrease in emergency room visits for opioid-related emergencies or accidents, particularly among men and adults from 25 to 44, in comparison to states with strict laws against medical and recreational cannabis.
These studies are just a small sample of those performed over the last decade, and the recurring message is that using medical cannabis and a reduced amount of opioids together can have a positive effect on users and society as a whole. For many patients, marijuana completely replaces opioids.
Can Medical Cannabis Help the Opioid Crisis?
Not only does the latest research show that marijuana is effective in replacing opioids, but many researchers and institutions actively suggest introducing cannabis into pain maintenance routines. Medical cannabis can absolutely help the opioid crisis, and more studies reporting this positive impact are on the horizon.
Medical cannabis has shown clinical promise as a pain reliever, and it comes without any of the addictive properties or overdose risks associated with opioids.
Among the many potential benefits of medical cannabis and a reduction of opioids are:
- The anti-inflammatory properties of medical marijuana decrease chronic pain or pain associated with recurring injuries
- A reduction in mental stress and disorders, including PTSD, anxiety, and depression
- Increased overall happiness and even creativity
- Sleep management and reduced overall sleepiness during the day
- Reduced acute pain that would otherwise have been treated with a prescribed opioid
- No withdrawal symptoms or experiences when someone ceases use of marijuana or runs out before they can purchase more
- Overall reduction in side effects
Many patients report relief from pain and anxiety through using CBD or THC. If you suffer from a qualifying chronic condition, speak to your doctor about alternatives to opioid pain relief.
How Can Texas 420 Doctors Help?
Anyone can choose from our collection of CBD and Delta-8 THC products without needing a prescription. If you are looking to make a transition to medical cannabis and away from opioids, scheduling a consultation with one of our doctors is easy and secure.
We have bilingual, board-certified physicians who are ready to help you determine if medical marijuana is appropriate for you. Plus, our team is always available to answer your questions about the entire process and what it may feel like to make the transition from opioids to CBD and THC. If medical marijuana is right for you, we help you get qualified and get the access you need. Our process is simple, affordable, and private. It only takes 60 seconds to begin the process.