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  • D.H. Reilly

Chronic Pain Treatment: Using Medical Marijuana to Replace Opioids

Replace opioids with medical marijuana for chronic pain

It continues to seem like just a matter of time before we’ll be able to get Mississippi Marijuana Cards.

And it’s easy to see why the writing on the wall seems to be in medical marijuana’s favor when one considers the many potential benefits for the entire state, not just medical marijuana patients. It’s no wonder that our politicians have stopped asking if we should have medical marijuana and have started asking how soon they can make it happen.

Consider, for example, how marijuana is being used to replace opioids in the treatment of chronic pain, and how that could benefit all of Mississippi. Opioids remain a common treatment for chronic pain, despite the fact that the opioid epidemic continues to be a serious issue facing the nation. Fortunately, experts point to hope in the form of “a growing body of evidence to support the use of medical cannabis as an adjunct to or substitute for prescription opiates in the treatment of chronic pain.”

That’s particularly good for Mississippi, which has the nation’s sixth highest per capita rate of opioid dispensing, according to the CDC. Of course not all of those opioids are being dispensed to people who are or will become addicted to them. Nevertheless, the more opioids are used the more likely they are to lead to addiction or overdose, so any effective alternative is a good thing.

And medical marijuana is definitely an effective alternative.

Medical Marijuana as a Pain Reliever

Marijuana relieves pain by blocking signals to the brain’s pain receptors. Furthermore, medical marijuana is an anti-inflammatory, so it reduces the inflammation that causes many kinds of pain. In other words, medical marijuana treats pain by numbing the sensation of the pain and in some cases by addressing the root cause of the pain.

Consequently, medical marijuana can be an effective replacement for painkillers with more frequent or dangerous side effects, or in some cases can be a useful supplementary medicine to take with other prescription painkillers, including opioids.

Opioids: Pain Relief, but at What Cost?

There are good reasons why medical experts consider opioids “a last resort for chronic pain management.”

Synthetic versions of opium-derived medications, opioids include drugs such as methadone, fentanyl, and codeine. They are often prescribed for intense pain following some sort of trauma, such as a surgery or bad accident.

Like opium itself, opioids are highly addictive, and the longer one uses them, the higher the likelihood one develops an addiction. According to the Mayo Clinic, after only five days on an opioid, a patient’s likelihood of still being on the medication after a year increases significantly.

So chronic pain patients are especially susceptible to opioid addiction. As chronic pain is defined as pain that lasts for three to six months, you’re likely to use an opioid well past that five day mark if you’re using it for chronic pain.

“Gasoline on a Fire”: Opioid Overdoses in Mississippi on the Rise

The Mayo Clinic reports that opioids cause more deaths in the U.S. than any other prescription drug, and that the numbers are on the rise. Similarly, the CDC reports that opioids are involved in more than 70% of drug overdose deaths in the country.

Opioid abuse continues to be an epidemic for the entire nation, and Mississippi is no exception. In fact, the problem here has been getting worse, fueled by the Covid pandemic, which some say was like pouring gasoline on the fire of opioids.

Can Medical Marijuana Really Help Limit Opioid Use?

So medical marijuana is an effective painkiller, but does that really mean we can reduce opioid use by treating chronic pain with medical marijuana instead? Well the evidence would seem to suggest that, yes, we can.

According to Harvard Medical School’s blog, in states that introduce medical marijuana programs, opioid prescriptions drop by an average of 2.21 million daily doses annually. And when the dispensaries first open up in those states, opioid prescriptions decline by an average of 3.74 million daily doses.

The American Medical Association published a study that found that opioid prescription rates drop almost 6% drop in medical marijuana states. The AMA also published a study that found that in the average state with a medical marijuana program there were almost four million fewer doses of opioids dispensed annually than in states without those programs.

And that’s good news for the entire community. In the words of the Harvard Health Blog, medical marijuana seems to mean “millions fewer bottles of prescription opiates consumed, sold, diverted, or abused.”

And as we’ve already pointed out, Mississippi has the sixth highest per capita rate of opioid dispensing in the nation. That’s millions of doses of opioids here being consumed, sold, diverted, or abused, and medical marijuana could make it millions less.

Medical Marijuana Can Also be an Effective Treatment When Used with Opioids

But replacing opioids isn’t the only way to reduce our dependence on them. Medical marijuana can actually help reduce opioid use when it’s taken in conjunction with opioids.

For example, using medical marijuana with opioids leads to greater pain reduction than using opioids alone. That greater pain reduction can then lead in turn to decreased opioid use overall.

That same study showed another way in which medical marijuana can reduce the use of opioids without replacing them. The more they use opioids, the more patients develop a tolerance for them. Consequently, over time patients need higher and higher doses of opioids to get the same amount of pain relief. But patients in the study who used medical marijuana along with opioids showed a sort of resetting of their opioid tolerance, allowing them to return to lower opioid doses.

The author wrote that beyond helping individual patients, medical marijuana laws “may be reducing the problematic use of pharmaceutical opiates and other potentially harmful substances in their communities.”

Is Medical Marijuana Right for You?

Mississippi may not have a medical marijuana market yet, but there is no reason you can’t get started on the road to relief now.

Reserve an evaluation today, and as soon as Mississippi’s medical marijuana market is up and running, we’ll schedule you an appointment with one of our compassionate doctors.

You’ll meet with your new doctor virtually via a telemedicine appointment. Using your smartphone or computer, and from the safety and comfort of your own home, you and your doctor will discuss your condition and options. You’ll even save $25 off the cost of your evaluation!

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