Did you know that eating a chocolate chip cookie increases your likelihood of eating an entire chocolate chip cookie cake? Or that drinking a cup of coffee will probably lead to a speed addiction? Or that eating a carb will add a pound of fat to your chin?
Sound a little crazy?
That’s because it is.
But this is the logic that fuels the myth perpetuated by the White House when Press Secretary Sean Spicer stated, “I think that when you see something like the opioid addiction crisis blossoming in so many states around this country, the last thing we should be doing is encouraging people. There is still a federal law that we need to abide by when it comes to recreational marijuana and other drugs of that nature.”
It’s the thinking behind the current US Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ statement that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”
It’s the hypocrisy that prevents NIDA and the FDA from approving cannabis use at the same time that those institutions approve the use of pharmaceuticals responsible for 128,000 deaths a year due to adverse reactions.
And it’s the absurd reasoning that categorizes cannabis, a plant with a rich medical history, as a Schedule 1 drug, or a substance with no federally approved medical use and a high risk for abuse.
Marijuana has been the target of xenophobic and racially motivated legislation since the Mexican Revolution sent a wave of Mexican refugees to America in the early twentieth century. A quick Google search on the topic makes it abundantly clear that this is no conspiracy—everyone who wants to know, knows it.
That goes for the therapeutic uses of marijuana as well. Despite the DEA’s claim that there is a paucity of evidence proving the medical value of cannabis, there is a lot of scientific information out there, either showcasing the federal government’s ignorance or it’s manipulation.
The Truth About Cannabis and Opioids
The realities of the opioid abuse are staggering. Every day, 91 Americans lose their lives to opioid overdose. Between 2000 and 2015, over 500,000 people died from opioid overdose.
Opioid abuse is not driven by cannabis use
In fact, doctors drive it. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the massive increase in opioid abuse and overdose is directly tied to the use of prescription opioids, the very opioids that are FDA approved. Four times the amount of pharmaceuticals sold in 1999 are sold today, and despite that enormous increase in pharmaceutical distribution, Americans are still reporting the same amount of pain as they were before they were flooded with these drugs.
Spicer’s widely publicized statement failed to mention that studies actually show that cannabis use can decrease the amount of opioid overdoses. An October 2014 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that, in states where medical cannabis had been legalized, less people died from opioid related complications, and that these declines coincided with marijuana reform.
A 2016 report published in Health Affairs found that people enrolled in Medicare were taking advantage of medical marijuana when it was appropriate, often opting for cannabis over the more commonly prescribed opioid-based pain killers. The report also found that states with legal medical marijuana saved $165.2 million annually in medical costs.
Early this year, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine published a massive review of 10,000 studies on cannabis, many of which demonstrated the plant’s therapeutic potential to alleviate an array of conditions including chronic pain.
Dr. Bruce Nicholson, a pain management physician, co-founder and Chief Medical Officer of TruVo Health Care, and president of the Pennsylvania Pain Society writes that marijuana offers patients suffering from chronic pain a much safer alternative than the traditionally prescribed opioids and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS).
Although some argue that NSAIDS are a safer alternative than opioids, an American Journal of Medicine study found that about 107,000 Americans are hospitalized for adverse reactions from NSAIDS a year.
The incredible anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving properties present in cannabis make it an excellent pain management therapy for patients who don’t want to risk abusing and overusing opioids and NSAIDS
Cannabis may have even more to offer than chronic pain relief. It can potentially relieve acute pain as well (think pain from a broken bone, a form of pain that is often remedied with opioids), and some evidence suggests that it can diminish the cravings and symptoms of opioid withdrawal.
The side effects of opioids are another reason patients are turning to cannabis instead. Those side effects can include sexual dysfunction, dizziness, constipation, and breathing problems. While cannabis has its own side effects (cotton mouth, paranoia, lethargy), none seem as extreme as those created by opioid use.
The most important difference between the two substances is that, in the worst-case scenario, a side effect could include overdose when consuming opioids. Opioid brain receptors are located in the area of the brain stem responsible for breathing. If those receptors are over stimulating, breathing can be shut down. However, you cannot overdose from marijuana.
The bottom line?
Here it is.
Marijuana is not perfect.
There are still many unknowns about different methods of consumption. There is some evidence suggesting that marijuana can potentially function as a gateway drug.
The thing is, though, there’s a whole lot more evidence demonstrating that cannabis is an incredibly versatile and powerful therapeutic tool, particularly when it comes to treating chronic pain, a condition that has been drowned in opioids.
There is a lot of evidence countering the claim embedded in Spicer’s statement about federal enforcement of recreational cannabis use.
Marijuana is not responsible for the opioid epidemic, and, more importantly, it may play a critical role in fighting that plague
If the Trump administration is truly concerned about combating opioid abuse, it should consider regulating the pharmaceutical industry with a little more diligence, and it should remove cannabis from the drug schedule so that the therapeutic benefits cannabis is renowned for can be easily accessible by those who need them the most.