The current situation with regard to cannabis policy in the United Kingdom is nothing short of embarrassing. And even if you were to take recreational cannabis entirely out of the question, the fact that there is so much concrete evidence supporting the value and importance of medical marijuana paints a rather appalling picture. Brits in dire need of safe, effective and readily available treatment for a wide variety of conditions are being denied access to medical cannabis – all because of outdated, misinformed and misguided policy.
Once again, another study carried out in the United States has found that when it comes to patients prescribed mental health medication and those battling chronic pain, more individuals than ever before would rather use cannabis than prescription opioids. A team from the University of British Columbia and University of Victoria carried out a study, suggesting that a growing number of patients are waking up to both the dangers of opioid painkillers and the incredible, wide-reaching benefits of medical cannabis.
“This study is one of the first to track medical cannabis use under the new system of licensed producers, meaning that all participants had physician authorization to access cannabis in addition to their prescription medicines,” commented UBC Assoc. Prof. Zach Walsh, co-author of the study.
Study of 250 Patients
The project involved and followed the cases of approximately 250 patients, who had been given access to medical cannabis for conditions including gastrointestinal disease, various mental health problems and chronic pain. The research team found that the around 63% of those who responded indicated their preference for medical cannabis over prescription drugs.
Explaining why the decision had been made to move away from prescription medication in favour of medical cannabis, the main reasons voiced by the participants of the study included more effective symptom management, fewer side effects and the knowledge that medical cannabis is fundamentally safer and better for overall health than many prescription drugs. Walsh went on to comment on the importance of intensifying both the research and use of medical cannabis as an alternative to prescription medications, including dangerous opioid painkillers. The United States is currently facing an opioid addiction and overdose crisis, with thousands losing their lives every year as a direct result of opioid abuse.
“Further research into how well cannabis works compared to the accepted front-line treatments is warranted,” says Walsh.
“Additionally, long-term research into the potential impact of the cannabis substitution on the quality of patient’s lives is on-going.”
One of the conditions most commonly associated with prescription opioids and similar prescription painkillers is chronic pain. For millions, chronic pain is a debilitating, life-affecting condition that can make most days or even every single day difficult to cope with. Living in a state of constant pain can have devastating effects on physical and mental health alike, often resulting in the individual in question entering into something of a downward spiral that is difficult to break. Traditionally and in most cases today, the standard go-to in terms of medication is opioid painkillers. Unfortunately, evidence suggests that not only are opioids only nominally effective, but they are also extremely addictive and potentially deadly.
In 2014 alone, approximately 28,000 people across the United States died as a direct result of opioid overdose. By contrast, not a single person in recorded history has ever died due to cannabis overdose.
Though evidence with regard to the potential benefits of cannabis over and above opioids was once somewhat anecdotal, there’s growing evidence to suggest that it could represent a real solution to the accelerating opioid crisis in the United States. A growing number of doctors and healthcare professionals are backing the use of cannabis as an alternative to prescription painkillers, primarily given the way in which medical marijuana is known to be significantly safer.
“Given the safety profile of cannabis compared to opioids, cannabis appears to be far safer,” commented Dr. Donald Abrams, a professor and Chief of Hematology/Oncology at San Francisco General Hospital.
“However, if a patient is already using opioids, I would urge them not to make any drastic changes to their treatment protocol without close supervision by their physician.”
Medical Cannabis Used To treat Opioid Addiction
What’s also interesting is the way in which the use of medical cannabis has been linked to greater success rates among those batting opioid addiction. In some instances, cannabis has been used as an alternative to methadone, as a means by which to help heroin addicts cope with the side effects of withdrawal. Once again, evidence suggests that those given the choice of both options have upon experiencing the difference medical cannabis can make decided to steer clear of methadone.
Since 1999, there has been in 400% increase in prescriptions written for opioid painkillers in the United States. Even though patients would prefer not to use them and doctors are wary of writing such prescriptions, there has nonetheless been terrifying acceleration in opioid use over the past 17 years. At the same time, evidence suggests that in regions where cannabis has been legalized, the number of prescriptions written for opioid painkillers has decreased dramatically. The same also being said for the number of reported opioid overdoses and fatalities.
Which would seem to suggest that while there is still much to be done with regard to studying cannabis as an opioid alternative, there is growing evidence to suggest that the legalization of cannabis has a significant positive impact on the opioid use and abuse rates. If nothing else, evidence suggest that patients in general should at least be given the option of medical cannabis, as an alternative to prescription painkillers.
Problem Won’t Go Away Until Sensible Drug Policy Introduced
Still, it’s the kind of problem that is unlikely to go anywhere in the near future in those countries and regions where medical cannabis is still inexplicably illegal. This of course applies to more than 20 North American states, not to mention the whole of the United Kingdom. Even in an era where the vast majority of doctors and every day members of the public alike are voicing their support for widespread use of medical cannabis, authorities in many regions still seem entirely unwilling to reconsider their outdated and misguided pot policies. They repeatedly speak of their commitment to tackling dangerous drug issues like heroin addiction, but seem unable to see what’s clearly one of the most powerful and proven-effective weapons right there in front of them.
Realistically, it’s only a matter of time until medical cannabis takes its rightful place as a treatment option of choice for doctors and patients alike all over the world. The only problem being that by that time, we’ll all be painfully aware of how much time has been wasted and how many have been forced to suffer needlessly in the interim.