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  • D.H. Reilly

Replacing Opioids with Medical Marijuana to Treat Chronic Pain

replacing opioids with medical marijuana for chronic pain

Having a medical marijuana market here benefits the entire state, not just those of us who get a Minnesota Marijuana Card. Consider, for example, how marijuana can be used with or in place of opioids to treat chronic pain, and how that benefits all of Minnesota.

Chronic pain is still often treated with opioids, even though it was the overwriting of opioid prescriptions that led to the opioid epidemic. While Minnesota opioid overuse hasn’t been nearly as high as some states’ rates, we’ve certainly not been immune to this crisis. In fact, opioid overdoses have been increasing year after year in the North Star State.

But the continuing progress of medical marijuana in the U.S. represents a bit of good news in that regard. In the words of one study, “There is 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 just another reason to be grateful that Minnesota’s medical marijuana program was expanded last year, and chronic pain is now a qualifying condition.

Marijuana can be an effective pain reliever in two ways. First, medical marijuana can alleviate pain by blocking signals to pain receptors in the brain. However, it has also been shown that marijuana is an effective anti-inflammatory, so it reduces the inflammation that is at the root of some kinds of pain.

As a result, medical marijuana can be an excellent replacement for or supplement with other prescription painkillers, including opiates, which have far greater potential for negative side effects than marijuana has.

Opioids: Pain Relief with Hefty Consequences

When you consider the facts, it’s no wonder that the Mayo Clinic, the top-ranked hospital in the U.S., calls opioids “a last resort for chronic pain management.”

Opioids are synthetic versions of medications derived from opium, such as hydrocodone, methadone, or morphine. They are often prescribed for trauma-induced pain, such as one might experience following a bad accident or surgery.

Opioids are very addictive, and the odds of becoming addicted increase over the length of time one uses opioids. According to the Mayo Clinic, a patient’s likelihood of still being on the medication after a year increases significantly after having only been on the drug for five days.

And as chronic pain lasts for three to six months, you’re likely to be on an opioid well past five days if you’re using them for chronic pain. In short, treat your chronic pain with opioids, and you’re taking a serious chance on getting addicted

Opioid Overdoses Continue to Rise

Although it may be getting less attention in the news lately, opioid addiction continues to be a serious problem for the U.S.

Opioids cause more prescription-drug related deaths in America than any other group of drugs according to the Mayo Clinic, and the clinic notes that these numbers are continuing to climb. And the CDC says that opioids are involved in over 70% of all drug overdose deaths nationally.

And while Minnesota has not been hit as hard by the opioid epidemic as some other states, overdoses and overdose deaths here continue to climb steadily, in spite of educational outreach from multiple agencies and the proliferation of the overdose medication Naloxone.

Does Medical Cannabis Really Help Reduce the Use of Opioids?

So opioids are highly addictive painkillers, and their overuse caused and continues to fuel the opioid epidemic. And medical marijuana is an effective painkiller. But does that necessarily mean that treating chronic pain with medical marijuana can reduce the use of opioids?

Well the evidence seems to suggest that, yes, treating chronic pain with marijuana can reduce societal dependence on opioids

According to the health blog of Harvard Medical School, opioid prescriptions dropped by an average of 2.21 million daily doses annually in states that implemented medical marijuana programs. And when those states’ marijuana dispensaries opened their doors? Well then annual prescriptions declined by 3.74 million daily doses.

And a study published by the American Medical Association found an almost 6% drop in opioid prescription rates in states with medical marijuana. Another AMA-published study found that there were almost four million fewer doses of opioids dispensed annually in the average state with a medical marijuana program when compared to the average state without one.

As the Harvard Health Blog pointed out, in states with medical marijuana programs, those programs led to “millions fewer bottles of prescription opiates consumed, sold, diverted, or abused.”

As we’ve said, Minnesota has thus far made it through the opioid crisis relatively well when compared to most other states. But we also pointed out that overdoses here continue to climb, year after year. In a fight we keep losing like this one, we need to use every weapon we have at our disposal. And thanks to the addition last year of chronic pain to Minnesota’s list of qualifying conditions, we have one more arrow in our quiver.

It’s not Just About Replacing: Using Medical Marijuana with Opioids

In some cases, medical marijuana can be an effective supplement for opioids, rather than a replacement for them. For example, using medical marijuana with opioids has been shown to result in greater pain reduction than opioids alone, which in turn led to decreased opioid use.

That same study showed that medical marijuana can be useful in cases where opioids have lost their efficacy. Over time, patients develop a tolerance for opioids that results in higher and higher doses being needed to deliver the same results. The study found that treating those patients with medical marijuana helped to eventually “reset” their opioid tolerance, allowing them to return to lowered opioid doses with continued efficacy.

The author concluded that medical marijuana dispensaries were not only a boon to individual patients, but that they “may be reducing the problematic use of pharmaceutical opiates and other potentially harmful substances in their communities.”

Like we said, medical marijuana benefits all of Minnesota, not just patients with a Minnesota Marijuana Card.

Could You Benefit From Medical Marijuana?

If you’re a chronic pain sufferer, or if you have any of the qualifying conditions that make you eligible for a marijuana card, why not find out if medical marijuana is right for you?

Reserve an evaluation today, and we’ll schedule you an appointment with one of our highly trained, compassionate doctors just as soon as we’re cleared to do so.

You’ll meet with your new doctor virtually using your smartphone or computer from the safety and comfort of your own home. You’ll even save $25 off the cost of your evaluation!

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