Chronic pain makes the lives of 50 million U.S. adults harder than it already is. Of this, 20 million suffer from high-impact chronic pain.
No wonder then, that prescription opioid painkiller use has skyrocketed over the years. In 2015 alone, an average of one in every three Americans used such medications.
Used the right way, these drugs no doubt help people cope with their pain conditions. The problem is when they end up misusing, even abusing it. That’s the case for 11.5 million people.
Because of this threat, many now consider marijuana vs opioids for pain relief. As you should. For one, because you may have lower risks of serious complications with weed.
But how exactly can cannabis help with pain? Is there any proof that it has much lower risks than opioids?
All these questions and more, we’ll address in this post, so make sure you read all the way to the end!
The Shocking and Scary Statistics Surrounding Opioids
The United States has a $500-billion opioid crisis. That’s the estimated cost of the opioid epidemic back in 2015. Two years before that, it was at $78.5 billion. That’s more than a six-fold increase in a matter of two years!
Opioid abuse, per person, is a very expensive problem. One study found that the cost can range anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000 per user!
This massive problem is more than an exorbitant one though. It’s fatal, claiming 115 lives in the U.S. every single day. What’s more, 1.9 million of those who use these drugs are full-fledged addicted to it.
Those who have serious dependence on opioids have the highest likelihood of overdosing. In short, they’re at the greatest risk of dying.
FYI, an estimate of 72,000 people in the country died from drug overdose in 2017. Experts believe that opioids are to blame for the two-thirds of these deaths.
Furthermore, studies point to synthetic opioid overdose causing 30,000 of these fatalities. The narcotic drug fentanyl is one of the culprits believed to have caused many of these deaths.
These are only some of the many other terrifying statistics surrounding opioids. But they should be enough for you to take a closer look at marijuana vs prescription drugs.
From Killing Pain to Killing the Body
There’s no question about the effectiveness of opioids for pain relief. Especially for those who suffer from serious to debilitating pain, on a regular basis. These also help those who’ve had surgery or have cancer find relief from pain.
In general, narcotic painkillers, like codeine, morphine, oxycodone, are safe. But this “safety” only lasts for a short time – a few days at most.
Studies found that opioid dependence can start in as little as five days. In fact, a single day of use already comes with a 6% risk of long-term dependence! What’s more, these risks are for those who use these drugs the right way.
So, imagine how bigger the odds are of opioid dependence for those who use it illicitly. Far greater, no doubt about that.
Even if an overdose doesn’t occur, narc abuse can cause many different negative effects. It can lead to compromised respiratory, cardiovascular, and central nervous systems. It can also affect the musculoskeletal, immune, and gastrointestinal systems.
Those who take higher doses of opioids are also at greater risk of fractures. Blood vessel blockages are also common in those who misuse these drugs. They also have an increased risk of infectious diseases, such as HIV and hepatitis.
It’s also important to note that repeated use of opioids leads to increased tolerance. Once this happens, abusers may find their prescription dosage to no longer be enough. This can then lead to them turning to the cheaper – and deadlier – alternatives such as heroin.
Marijuana vs Opioids: Has Anyone Died of Marijuana Overdose?
With all that talk about opioid overdose, this question is most likely in your mind right now. The straight-up answer is no one. There are no reports of people overdosing and dying because of weed.
That should already tell you that cannabis is safer compared to opioids or other drugs. Between codeine and weed, the latter comes with fewer risks and side effects.
Marijuana: The More Natural, Yet Effective Alternative to Addicting Painkillers
First, let’s answer the question, “Is marijuana a narcotic drug”? Unfortunately, the government considers it so. They’ve included it in their list of 130 controlled narcotic drugs.
But that doesn’t eliminate the fact that cannabis is natural. That it’s an effective treatment not only for pain, but many other health problems. Many of the 20,000 references in PubMed alone provide proof of these health benefits.
Many of these studies focus on two of the primary cannabinoids in the marijuana plant: THC and CBD. Cannabinoids are chemical compounds responsible for the plant’s medicinal and recreational effects.
THC stands for “tetrahydrocannabinol”, and it’s one of weed’s psychoactive compounds. In other words, it’s what makes people who use marijuana feel “high”. But it’s also what makes it therapeutic and powerful for relieving pain.
CBD is short for cannabidiol. It’s non-psychoactive, which means it doesn’t have intoxicating properties. Like THC though, it has also shown potent anti-pain properties.
The effects depend on how you consume marijuana though. There are various ways of using it, from smoking to vaporizing to eating. Nowadays, you’ll find oils and tinctures that you can either apply topically or even eat!
Weed for Inflammation and Arthritic Pain
One study found that cannabinoids can help reduce swelling and neuropathic pain. The researchers note both THC and CBD to have beneficial effects.
Another study also reported marijuana’s potential for minimizing pain due to arthritis. The researchers used a topical gel containing CBD on arthritic rats. In as short as four days, they discovered a huge reduction in the subjects’ pain and swelling.
There’s also one that showed the plant’s ability to lessen osteoarthritis pain. The test, although also done on rats, noted that local application of CBD resulted in less pain. The researchers further suggest CBD products may provide sufferers relief from their condition.
Cannabis and Multiple Sclerosis
On a global scale, multiple sclerosis (MS) affects 2.3 million people. This chronic central nervous system disease causes nerve and musculoskeletal pain.
The good news is, the list of marijuana strains effective against pain, including MS, is a long one. Science proves this, with one study noting that weed lessens spasticity caused by MS. In layman’s terms, this means reduced painful muscle spasms.
Less Pain Means Better and More Sleep
Pain and sleep (or lack thereof) go hand in hand. When you feel pain, you have a hard time falling and staying asleep. Not getting the right amount of ZZZs makes you suffer from even more pain.
In short, this relationship exacerbates pain and interferes with your sleep.
No wonder then that an estimated 50 to 70 million people in the U.S. have sleep problems. Aside from taking addictive painkillers, it’s likely they also take sleeping pills. This puts them at even higher risk of overdose.
This is where marijuana again comes into play. To be more specific, the sleep-inducing cannabis indica strains. They help bring the body’s natural sleep cycle back into order.
The Plant’s Potential to End the Opioid Crisis
These proven benefits of cannabis may be the answer to the world’s growing opioid crisis. In fact, studies suggest it may have already slowed the epidemic.
This is particularly true in states where weed is legal. These states had a 14% reduction in the number of issued opioid prescriptions. One of the study’s researchers even went as far as to say marijuana has “virtually no risk of overdose”.
Here’s more info on this subject, so you can get a deeper look into how cannabis can end opioid abuse. But the bottom line is, it shows great promise in helping put a stop to these deadly addictions.
The Current State of Marijuana’s Legality
A recent Pew study revealed that 62% of U.S. adults support marijuana’s legalization. That’s exactly twice the number of supporters from 20 years ago.
The growing number of states legalizing cannabis reflects this increasing support. At the moment, medical marijuana is legal in 33 states. 10 states have legalized recreational pot, Michigan being the most recent addition.
Granted, cannabis’ beneficial effects are already quite known. But the government would no doubt need more studies to prove its ability to curb opioid abuse. The more research to back it up, the more states that may legalize it.
Making the Switch Now to Medical Marijuana
In the case between marijuana vs opioids, it’s obvious that the former is the winner. Compared with the side effects – and deadly potential – of narcs, weed is a much safer, tamer choice.
Which one you’ll choose to manage your pain is still up to you. But we hope this post has at least cleared up your doubts about pot’s many health benefits.
Looking for more health hacks? If so, make sure you check out our site’s health and wellness section! We’ve got more guides there that are sure to satisfy your curiosity.