Opiods vs. Marijuana for Pain Relief

Opiods are strong pain relievers prescribed by doctors for patients experiencing severe or chronic pain. The most common name brands in the US market are Oxy Contin, Percocet, Vicodin, and Percodan. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the number of prescription deaths related to opioids have increased fourfold since 1999. In 2014 alone, over 14,000 people died of the US from Opiod overdoses. There were over 165,000 opiod overdose deaths in the previous 15 years.

Just as alarming is the rate of addiction. The CDC estimates that as many as one in four people prescribed these powerful drugs experience addiction issues. In fact, well over 2 million Americans are currently abusing and dependant on opiods. Most studies agree that long term opiod abuse has serious effects on kidneys, liver, and health in general.


There’s a concise overview on the CDC’s website that links to seven major studies here: http://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/data/overdose.html

Unfortunately, because the classification of marijuana as a schedule one drug, they have no published studies on their website about the well established pain relief potential of medical marijuana. In fact, a search of their website reveals about 20 posts concerning cannabis, almost a third of which relate to synthetic marijuana. The rest are just general studies about over usage of what the Federal government still sees as an illegal drug.

Fortunately, the Canadian government isn’t so myopic. They sponsored a major study that sought to analyze the general safety of medical marijuana. However, as an offshoot, they discovered marijuana’s potential to relieve chronic pain in the study’s participants. The study was the first major inquiry into the potential of cannabis for long-term pain management.

The lead doctor conducting the trial was Dr. Mark Ware, the head of clinical research for the Alan Edwards Pain Management department at a Montreal university hospital. He released his findings in the medical journal “Pain”. The majority of patients reported a reduction in pain, as well as improvement in mood and appetite. Side effects reported were relatively minor, and included fatigue, dizziness, and generally what marijuana users are accustomed to. He did note that all of the group being studied had previously used marijuana, and cautioned that side effects could be more impactful for people unused to the effects of pot.

While the study was not specific to seniors using medical marijuana, it does offer a glimpse of what legitimate medical research is beginning to find about cannabis and pain management. Seniors are the population that most often experience chronic pain. Opiods may be a more potent alternative, but as more comprehensive studies are completed, more and more doctors are beginning to suspect that positive data is likely to pile up.

Perhaps Dr. Jonathon Kuo, a pain management specialist at North Shore University Hospital said it best, “We frequently find that opiods are not a good long-term solution for chronic pain. We’d like to see some more of these long-term safety profiles of medical cannabis, and studies like these are important steps forward in that direction.” (quoted from a WebMD post).

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