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Using Marijuana to Diminish Dependence on Opiates

Opiates can be a dangerous business, and the over-prescription of same is often blamed for the epidemic we're currently seeing in the uptick of heroin and fentanyl overdoses in this country. Patients are prescribed opiates when they may have been able to receive a treatment that was less strong and less addictive, and then when doctors decide that their patients are recovered enough, they take them off of their prescriptions.

The problem is that, by this point, an opiate addiction has already set in, and with nowhere else to turn, patients are turning to the black market for the cheaper and easier-to-get heroin to get their fix. Many of the more recent overdose cases are proving that heroin is being cut with fentanyl, which is an incredibly strong additive that people don't know they're getting and that can kill them on the spot.

With opiate addiction spiraling out of control in this country, other methods are being explored for pain management. The continued legalization of medical marijuana in the U.S. gave Care by Design – one of the largest medical marijuana producers in California – an idea. They decided to conduct their own study into whether or not medical marijuana could be used to both treat chronic pain and to reduce the need to introduce opiates to manage that chronic pain.

Their study surveyed 800 patients, most of whom were between the ages of 50 and 70 years old. Over 80 percent of those surveyed reported suffering with chronic pain, and half reported suffering from pain that was more acute. Over 40 percent of those surveyed, however, reported suffering regularly from both.

These 800 patients had tried everything from opiates to exercise, physical therapy to surgery, and even nerve blockers and anti-inflammatory agents. On average, these people reported trying about four of these methods together, while 200 of them said that they tried everything on the list.

Those who had tried medical marijuana to manage their conditions, however, reported that not only was the marijuana "very effective" in treating their pain, but they also experienced fewer negative side effects. While those who tried opiates reported that yes, the opiates effectively treated their pain as well, most of them reported suffering significantly negative effects on their quality of life – to the point where it even affected their behavior.

Perhaps the most poignant result of the survey was that over 90 percent of the survey's respondents reported either reducing the amount of opiates they were taking once they started taking medical marijuana, or they stopped taking the opiates entirely.

While this sounds incredibly promising in the war on opiates, the legalization of medical marijuana still has some concerned. Mainly, those in opposition to the idea are fearful that we have not yet studied the effects long enough to determine what long-term effects exist, if any. These people are concerned that while we may be treating one problem in the short term, we may also be creating other problems in the long term that we are unaware of yet simply because we have not yet had enough time to study the idea.