Every year, more and more people in the U.S. and Canada die from opioid-involved overdoses. In 2019 alone, nearly 50,000 people in the U.S. lost their lives due to opioid misuse, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
The opioid epidemic is real and is considered a public health crisis.
Healthcare practitioners and researchers are continually searching for ways to help those suffering from chronic pain by coming up with alternative treatments to highly addictive opioids.
A growing body of authoritative studies has revealed the potential of medical cannabis as a much-needed alternative for treating chronic pain.
One such study comes from Canada and was released earlier this month in the journal BMC Public Health.
According to the report, research has shown that permission to use medical cannabis to treat chronic pain led to a reduction in opioid use.
Before we delve into the new findings, let’s take a look at how it all started.
How did the opioid crisis come to be?
In the late 1990s, pharmaceutical companies claimed there was no addiction risk connected to opioid use. Based on that claim, which proved to be false, physicians began to prescribe opioid-based medicine ever more frequently. This naturally led to addiction and severe misuse of such drugs as prescription pain relievers, heroin and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, all of which are extremely addictive, even deadly.
With opioids being widely prescribed by doctors who were encouraged by the pharmaceutical companies, overdose rates began to sore. In 2017 more than 47,000 Americans died of opioid-related overdoses, around 1.7 million were diagnosed with substance abuse disorder and another 652,000 were addicted to heroin, according to National Institute on Drug Abuse.
“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the total ‘economic burden’ of prescription opioid misuse alone in the United States is $78.5 billion a year, including the costs of healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement.”
The new study: How can medical cannabis help?
The study’s objective was to examine the effect of medical cannabis on opioid use between 2013 and 2018 in Alberta, Canada. A total of 5,373 medical cannabis patients were matched to those in a control group, who were all chronic opioid users.
“Known as the ‘opioid-sparing effect,’ recent studies have emphasized the analgesic properties of medical cannabis—and that concomitant use with cannabis may potentially show a significant reduction in overall reliance of opioid usage—and consequently, lead to an improved quality of life,” wrote the authors of the study.
The results revealed that the effects of medical cannabis were intermediate, depending on the original opioid use. This means that patients who were taking higher opioid doses, upon receiving medical cannabis authorization showed the largest decline in opioid use over the six-month period.
This research is in line with similar studies previously conducted.
“Overall, our findings may contribute ongoing evidence for clinicians regarding the potential impact of medical cannabis to reduce the opioid burden among patients,” concluded the scientific report.
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