When pro golf superstar Tiger Woods was arrested for a DUI, after cops found him passed out at the wheel of his car near his Jupiter, Florida home, it seemed apt that it was prescription drugs Xanax and Vicodin, and not booze, that took down the Tiger.
While Woods’ story of falling victim to prescription painkillers was sensationalized due to his celebrity status, it is far from the only story about legal medications risking and ruining lives rather than properly treating conditions.
The 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health revealed 119 million Americans aged 12 and older used prescription drugs that year, a figure representing a staggering 45 percent of the U.S. population. Worse, 19 million (7.1 percent of the population) of those users abused their legal drugs in 2015, including pain relievers—consumed by 98 million Americans—along with tranquilizers, stimulants and sedatives.
Woods subsequently checked into rehab to combat his pill abuse, which begs the question: What might have been Tiger’s fate had he turned solely to medical marijuana, now legal in his home state of Florida?
This unresolved query underscores the fact that the biggest issues regarding legal medical marijuana are, of course, not with the medication itself, but rather in overcoming the negative stereotypes associated with cannabis, as well as providing patient access to pot in the first place. The latter concern is generally due to interference and obstruction by the federal government and/or even by anti-weed influences within the legal state itself.
When examining the two side-by-side in the harsh light of reality, it’s not simply a matter of MMJ being superior to Rx, which it most certainly is; it’s the sheer scope of dominance that the healing herb has over deadly and addictive medications that is so mind-blowing.
These 10 entries further reinforce the dichotomy between pharmaceutical companies—Big Pharma—fueling a dangerous dynamic in which too many irresponsible physicians are handing out prescription drugs like candy and a primarily benign MMJ industry that is increasingly legitimized with each passing day.
1. Superior Treatment with MMJ
This category has to be selected as number one on a list such as this for no other reason than why else would any person even take a mediation in the first place—unless it’s to treat and/or cure the disease?
And it is here where medicinal cannabis, first and foremost, shines over and above pharmaceutical drugs in treating many ailments when the two are pitted one-on-one. There are too many examples to list in this quick countdown, but among the most prominent is the use of cannabis for treating certain types of epilepsy which are otherwise completely prescription drug resistant.
This past May, in a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, medical researchers confirmed that the frequency of convulsive seizures decreased with use of cannabidiol (CBD, the non-psychoactive compound in MMJ), after examining 120 children and young adults (ages 2-18) afflicted with a rare but deadly epileptic condition known as Dravet Syndrome.
2. No Overdoses with MMJ
Unlike virtually every prescription medication that carries a risk of overdose, this is not the case with cannabis, in which the result of consuming too much is an early night’s (or day’s) sleep.
Conversely, America’s opioid epidemic—which includes legal Rx meds—has gotten so out of control that librarians in three U.S. cities (San Francisco, Denver and Philadelphia) have been trained in the use and administration of naloxone to reverse overdoses and save victims’ lives, per CNN.
With legal cannabis, no such emergency training is required—except, librarians might have to wake up pot patients who ate a few too many bites of their healing edible and dozed off behind a book!
3. MMJ Is Non-Addictive
It’s pretty common knowledge than “addiction” to medical marijuana is much less of—if at all—an issue than is the case with prescription meds. But when you look close at the disparity, it’s staggering.
While there might be a psychological component to becoming dependent on weed to cope with certain aspects of day-to-day living, it’s hardly the kind of “addiction” that’s going to force someone into acts of desperation or even crime to satisfy their prescription pill cravings. When you don’t have weed, you just get bummed out, potentially have trouble sleeping regularly and your medical condition might worsen, but there’s no strap-you-to-the-bed-to-endure-nightmare-withdrawal-symptoms.
Prescription drugs are so highly addictive, FOX News made their own list of the worst; ranging from anti-anxiety medications containing benzodiazepine (like Xanax and Valium), to opioid pain management drugs like oxycodone (sold as OxyContin and Percocet) and Demerol.
4. Less Side Effects with MMJ
We’ve all seen those endlessly repeated, cheesy TV commercials for Big Pharma drugs that warn of so many scary side effects, you think to yourself, “I’d rather have the disease!”
Not so with weed—in which the side effects are minimal, with the psychological issue of anxiety and the physical symptom of an increased heart rate being the two most severe. Obviously, these two THC side-effects can also be interconnected.
If you’re planning to get authorized to use medicinal marijuana in your state, you’re going to see a physician at some point in the process, who can then determine if you’re at particular risk for some of the rare side-effects of weed. But there really is no comparison when holding medical pot up against virtually any prescription medication when it comes to sideeffects.
Cheat Sheet recently published, “15 Rx Meds with Some of the Most Dangerous Side Effects,” with categories including “suicidal thoughts,” that can derive from taking Klonopin for panic attacks or even Accutane—used to treat acne! How does “sexual dysfunction” grab you, or rather, doesn’t grab you? You can get that as a byproduct of taking anti-psychotic Risperdal and even hair restorer Propecia.
Ironically, the best treatment for most prescription side effects is—you guessed it—cannabis, as a soothing indica can provide relief from anxious thoughts, and there are strains and topicals that can enhance sexuality.
5. MMJ Results in Reduced Rx Deaths
When legal cannabis is chosen over potentially lethal prescription drugs, lives are literally saved.
According to Science magazine, in 2014, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated almost two million American were either addicted to or abusing presription opioids, resulting in 21,000 annual deaths per the Kaiser Family Foundation.
But that death toll could have been a lot worse if it weren’t for MMJ coming to the rescue!
An August 2014 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that the 13 states that had legal medical weed during 1999-2010 experienced a 25 percent decrease in annual deaths from opioid overdoses. This positive development as a result of MMJ saved at least 1,729 lives in legal states combined in 2010 alone.
6. Saves Money Through Reduced Medicare
This category was intentionally positioned at this spot on the list because it directly answers the question posited by the previous entry: Why are there less opioid deaths in MMJ states? Simply because those who previously used and abused prescription drugs—such as dangerous and addictive opioid painkillers that build tolerance which can lead to death—wisely substituted them for cannabis.
Research published in July 2016 in Health Affairs found prescriptions filled by Medicare Part D enrollees between 2010 and 2013 fell drastically, resulting in a statewide average of 1,826 fewer doses of prescription meds handed out annually.
That development contributed to a nationwide reduction of $165.2 million in 2013 Medicare expenditures; so not only is legal medical marijuana saving lives, it’s saving money!
7. Prescription Drugs Lead to Increased Crime and Violence
With MMJ, any associated ancillary crime is primarily due to pot prohibition laws of the federal government and backwards states; for example, Nebraska experienced an increase in black-market sales of imported weed from Colorado. On the other hand, cataloging the crimes associated with completely legal Rx drugs are too numerous to detail here in full and truly warrant their own list, but merely glancing at a couple of examples speaks volumes.
Per the journal PLOS Medicine, in 2015, Swedish researchers reported that teens and young adults ages 15-24 taking a certain type of antidepressant (SSRIs) were more likely to get convicted of committing violent crimes—including murder and sexual offenses—than those who weren’t on prescription drugs.
A 2010 study based on FDA data had previously concluded that Americans taking antidepressants were also more likely to commit acts of violence. Per Boston’s NPR news station WBUR, Massachusetts has experienced spikes in the crime rate due to Rx-related thefts and burglaries.
Suffice it to say, the mutual problems of violence and crime and prescription drug use and abuse has gotten so out of control that law enforcement in all 50 states now tracks all personal Rx use, scary but true, as noted by the Marshall Project.
8. Less Prescription Drugs Needed to Achieve Full Effect When Combined with MMJ
As detailed this past May in the International Journal of Oncology, investigators at the University of London treated leukemia patients with cannabinoids used in conjunction with chemotherapy drugs cytarabine and vincristine. Among their conclusions was that adding CBD and THC to the treatment mix allows for a dramatic reduction in the dose of the cytotoxic (cancer cell killing) drug, yet that lowered dosage remains properly efficacious.
Those familiar with cannabis science are aware that “pairing together” cannabinoids—such as THC and CBD—creates an effect stronger than utilizing the compounds individually. Such is also the case with cannabinoids and opioid analgesics; as far back as 2003, research done at Virginia Commonwealth University indicated low doses of THC enhanced the potency of opioids.
9. MMJ Is Ethically Superior to Big Pharma
Evidence that Big Pharma is threatened by legal cannabis’ gains in the last decade is found in their donations to anti-legalization campaigns.
Per the Guardian, INSYS Therapeutics—a Big Pharma producer of opioid painkillers—donated $500,000 to oppose legalization in Arizona that proved to be money well spent after Prop. 205 was narrowly defeated by only receiving 49 percent of the statewide vote. This is just one example of the lengths that Big Pharma will go to ensure they lose as little of the medication market as possible to an upstart alternative medicine, like MMJ.
On the flip side, there are no published reports of cannabis companies meddling in Big Pharma’s ballot measure interests, such as their 2016 victory, when Prop. 61—which would have reduced prescription drug prices for the public—was unfortunately defeated in California, per Mercury News. Likewise, you don’t see cannabis companies paying off doctors to get them to prescribe their brands to patients.
Not so with Big Pharma, as a 2016 analysis conducted by Propublica found that physicians who received any kind of compensation from Big Pharma—even just a meal, not necessarily cash—prescribed a higher percentage of name-brand drugs than doctors who did not get paid off.
These ethical distinctions between corporate and corrupt Big Pharma and more grassroots-oriented cannabis companies invariably leads us to our final entry on this list: The fact that MMJ gives some—though not enough—patients the right to…
10. Grow Your Own Medicine
What’s old is new again. Just as back in the day, people created healing remedies from plants and other organic materials, so does cannabis hearken a return to the soil, literally and figuratively.
Instead of swallowing a handful of pills containing god-knows-what ingredients, patients can harvest their own crop of cannabis and produce the medicine that works best for them and/or for those that they may be providing care.
In February 2016, a federal judge in Canada struck down the ban against pot patients growing their own weed at home as unconstitutional, as the Globe and Mail reported. Canadian cannabis patients had been denied the right to cultivate since 2014, when the former ruling Conservative party corruptly shifted all of the medical ganja growing to private companies.
In the U.S., currently 19 legal pot states overall (with 12 being MMJ-only states) allow for personal, home cultivation of cannabis, a number that should be increased drastically, as argued quite cogently in 2016 by Motherboard. After all, people are allowed to home brew beer legally, and alcohol is a much more harmful substance than cannabis.
And should patients and potheads alike seek to ward off the influence of “Big Ganja”—corporate control of the cannabis industry—then the legal ability to grow one’s own weed is a powerful means by which to circumvent that.