Is Marijuana the Solution to America’s Opioid Epidemic?

Opioids are one of the most powerful and frighteningly addictive painkillers in the world – it’s just like morphine, able to provide severe relief from pain, but is more available to abuse due to the fact you can easily request your doctor to prescribe them. For decades, opioid overdoses have been rapidly increasing the mortality rate in Americans by the thousands, far surpassing the numbers of fatality from car crashes, several diseases, and violence. While they are used to anesthetize surgical procedures and reduce chronic pain in long-term illnesses or recoveries, opioids also send the user into a spiraling and dangerous state of euphoria that is incredibly addicting to experience, which caused many people to fight to get their hands on it, no matter the cost. Today, this opioid abuse and overdose concern, called “America’s Opioid Epidemic”, has been declared as a public health emergency and garnered immense attention to halt its momentum with permanent solutions – marijuana being at the top of the list. There are multiple factors that propelled the opioid epidemic. Initially, the opioid companies aggressively campaigned their products since the 1960’s, convincing the medical community that opioids were vital and necessary for recovery and rehabilitation. Purdue Pharma, in particular, held profound responsibility for kick-starting the opioid epidemic by creating Oxycontin, one of the first narcotic painkillers to be introduced into the medical market. During its first year, it profited over $45 million dollars because not only did it help ailments, people always wanted more. Similar companies afterwards followed instead to make the same profit – if not more – and lacked any concern for the highly addictive painkillers that would effects its customers. Another factor is the event in which doctors have actually overprescribed opioids both in the past and continuously today, despite being aware (like painkiller companies), that patients had the potential to suffer addictive tendencies to them. Lastly, since opioids were so highly demanded by both patients and addicts – the illegal and significantly cheaper opioid, heroin, entered the market, along with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid – ten times more lethal than regular opioids. Lastly, if an individual could not have access to the drug, they would turn to the streets to buy their supply in a cheaper and quicker manner. This was motivation for cartels to begin developing a grander supply of opioids for eager, future buyers who needed more of their fill. Therefore, this poses the questions of: “Then, if at all, how is marijuana any different or harmless, and how can it even be a solution in the first place if it also sends its user into euphoric state?” Surprisingly, the credibility and pros of prescribing marijuana instead of opioids has evidence to back it up and outweigh its cons. Let’s take a look at the similarities: Like opioids, marijuana affects the sympathetic nervous system, thus subduing anxiety, depression, and of course – pain, both psychologically and physically. The relief is unquestionably instantaneous. However, weed simply brings your mind and body to a balanced sense of calm. Opioids, on the hand, drowns you in an almost suffocating euphoric state. Marijuana can actually help diminish the discomfort of chronic conditions, like subduing gastronomical irregularities and even decrease the nausea caused by chemotherapy treatment for cancer. Studies have shown that it can even help recovering former opioid addicts. Now, the starkest difference between the opioids and marijuana is that marijuana is not lethal, opioids are. In order to overdose on marijuana, you need to consume “fifteen hundred pounds in fifteen minutes”, according to the research done by David Schmader, author of “Weed: The User’s Guide”. Marijuana also possesses a lack of extreme withdrawal symptoms and a miniscule to non-existent chance of developing addiction to it, even if used for a chronic period of time. The user would only go through temporary and minor uncomfortable symptoms during a withdrawal period, such as changes in mood and lack or increase of appetite for a few weeks. With opioid withdrawal, the individual suffers similar withdrawal symptoms like marijuana, but the symptoms are much more severe. They break out in cold sweats, consistently feel restless, physically ill to the point of a fever, and even feel their bodies are less safe without opioids. Experiments using marijuana as a medical tool has demonstrated that while it may share the same characteristic of relieving pain like opioids, the overall result on an individual is never life-threatening or harmful. But studies still continue to test its positive contributions. Conclusively, while marijuana is a solution – it is not the ultimate solution to the nation’s opioid epidemic. However, it has the possibility to be one of the solutions that will save the lives of many. This post was made possible by WSJ Contributor Trevor M