Could Pot Cure the Opioid Crisis?

In the United States today, people are dying from overdoses tied to prescription opioid pain medications. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) tracks these statistics that are trending ever upward across the country.

Doctors continue to prescribe the highly-addictive opioid category of medications for pain relief. The CDC says prescriptions have risen fourfold since 1999. While the President has declared a national emergency related to opioid addiction, substance use facilities are still battling it out day-to-day to try to wean people off this legally prescribed medication.

Could the answer lie somewhere as simple as lighting up some pot? Researchers believe marijuana may help alleviate pain symptoms with none of the addictive side effects of opioid medication. Here’s what the research is showing.

States with Legal Pot Show Reduced Addiction Rates

A 2014 study in JAMA Internal Medicine correlated a reduction in opioid deaths with states that legalized marijuana for medical use. They studied data from all 50 states and concluded:

Examination of the association between medical cannabis laws and opioid analgesic overdose mortality in each year after implementation of the law showed that such laws were associated with a lower rate of overdose mortality that generally strengthened over time.

Is it this simple? Is the cure for opioid addiction simply lighting up a joint?

Actually, the surveys are showing: Yes. But it’s not the pot itself, it seems to be the cannabidiol (CBD) inside the plant that seems to be so beneficial.

Leafly tells the story of an Army vet who suffered five ruptured discs and a severely damaged spine. After a medical discharge, the soldier was prescribed handfuls of opioids: Morphine, fentanyl, Vicodin, codeine, Percocet, oxycodone, and methadone; seven separate muscle relaxants, six benzodiazepines; seven antidepressants – and more. The vet transitioned to marijuana and found that he could wean himself off the powerful opioids that were ruining his life. He stated:

Cannabis allowed me to ignore the pain and withdrawals of fentanyl, oxycodone, and Xanax. Without cannabis, I’m sure I would have overdosed or committed suicide by now.

Why Does Pot Work on Opioid Addiction?

Opioids loop the user into a cycle. The opioid stimulates the parts of the brain that reward the patient with pleasure. But as the body grows tolerant, more of the drug is needed to feel the same effect. Withdrawal from these medications can be brutal, which causes many people to relapse; it’s just too hard to escape the addiction.

Cannabis, and the CBD it holds reacts with the same receptors triggered during consumption of opioids. Research has shown that CBD can interact with serotonin and not only reduce withdrawal symptoms, it can relieve craving for the opioid.

While more research needs to be done, it seems clear that marijuana could join the ranks of other medication-assisted therapies being used in drug rehab facilities around the country. With more states poised this summer to legalize pot, this helpful little plant may hold the key to not only reducing our nation’s addictions but also to alleviate the pain of cancer and other debilitating diseases.