Ways Medical Cannabis Can Help with Opioid Addiction

Rohan Mathew

Updated on:

Opioid addiction is one of the most pressing public health problems facing America today. With many states in the country legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes, physicians and patients alike hope that marijuana can be an effective tool for treating opioid addictions. Ohio Green Team – Medical Marijuana Doctors & Recommendations advocates for marijuana use to curb opioid addiction.

 In 2013, there were over 30,000 cases of overdoses on opioid pain relievers. These statistics are almost too staggering to believe. For comparison purposes, there were only 652 deaths from a drug overdose in 1991. Over the past five years, opioid overdose death rates have risen an alarming 700%.

Promising Studies

A new study published in the journal Clinical Neuropharmacology investigated whether or not medical cannabis can help with opioid addiction. The study has been accepted for publication in the same journal now and is currently available online. The authors conclude that smoked cannabis can be a valuable adjunct to opioid addiction treatment.

The study was intended to determine what medical marijuana strains could most effectively reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms during opioid detox. That included a broad range of different kinds of cannabinoids, terpenoids, and flavonoids. Researchers measured these substances’ effects on mice with high levels of opioid addiction. They discovered that certain cannabis strains could effectively manage withdrawal symptoms.

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THC-Inhibited Morphine Withdrawal

The mice were subjected to different cannabinoid acids, and the results were measured using an abstinence measurement scale. Researchers discovered that  GABAergic and glutamatergic neurotransmission mediated THC-inhibited morphine withdrawal. CB1 receptors also seemed to play a mediating role in this process. Further investigation revealed some surprising findings on CBD, which opposes the abuse potential of opiates.

“The results of this study demonstrated the effectiveness of smoked cannabis in diminishing opioid withdrawal symptoms. That is an exciting development for the emerging field of cannabis therapeutics, as smoked cannabis may be an effective treatment for a variety of drug and alcohol addictions, including opioids.” – Dr. William Courtney, lead author of the study.

The current study confirms earlier findings that THC-rich strains are more effective at treating morphine symptoms than THC-less strains. In addition, CBD was found to have significant anti-opioid properties.

Following Stages of Clinical Studies

The researchers next plan to test the effect of cannabis on human subjects. They will try to determine which strains are most effective at treating withdrawal symptoms and how cannabinoids combine in smoked cannabis will affect opioid-craving mice. These studies will be critical in deciding the best cannabis strains for treating withdrawal symptoms and how different cannabinoids combine when smoked in a joint.

The Role of Marijuana Doctors in Ending Opioid Addiction

Opioid use, both legal and illicit, is a significant problem in the United States. Opioids are highly addictive drugs that are used to numb pain or for addiction relief. They include prescription medications such as morphine and oxycodone and illegal substances such as heroin.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says that more than 2 million people are addicted to opioids, and 80 percent of them are taking prescription painkillers. Heroin is also an opioid used illegally, with heroin-related deaths quadrupling between 2002 and 2013.

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Marijuana for Pain

One of the primary reasons people take opioids is for pain relief. A common way to treat pain with opioids is by taking a prescription medication, such as Oxycodone. These drugs have many short-term benefits for someone suffering from chronic pain. However, they can also cause a dangerous dependence, which leads to addiction and overdose. The risk of addiction is much higher when someone takes more than the recommended dosage or gets the drug through illegal means.

There are currently several alternatives available to treat pain in patients who are addicted to prescription opioids. While many do provide some relief from pain, they are also highly addictive. Many doctors are now turning to marijuana for pain rather than opioids.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine also said that patients treated for opioid addiction might benefit from both medication-based and holistic treatments. The National Institutes of Health’s opium and heroin addiction treatment centers recommend combining medications and behavioral interventions for people addicted to opioids. 

It is also important that doctors who specialize in marijuana follow all state laws when prescribing medical marijuana to patients. There are currently 29 states where marijuana has been legalized for medical use. Of these 29 states, eight have also legalized recreational marijuana use.