How Marijuana Can Help Treat Addictions to Opioids, Other Rx Drugs and Alcohol

Photo by Javier Hasse

People often talk about marijuana as an alternative to opioids and as a treatment for numerous addictions like alcohol and tobacco. But, like most praises (and condemnations) of weed, these claims are frequently based on hearsay rather than on actual science or quantitative evidence.

Max Simon, founder and CEO of Green Flower Media, the world’s largest platform for trusted cannabis education, is passionate about finding and sharing the science and data that supports the idea of cannabis enhancing people’s lives.

One of the qualities of cannabis is that it can help people get off diverse types of addictive pharmaceuticals, like opiates. The effect is double: Weed helps both with the pain and the resulting, underlying addiction to the medication.

“It’s amazing how cannabis works on the pain receptors to disrupt the pain signaling between the brain and the body,” Simon told Benzinga, pointing out that the duration of the therapeutic action of marijuana is equally remarkable, especially when consumed orally—in an edible format, basically.

In addition, cannabis can have a “forgetting effect,” psychopharmacologist and psychiatrist Julie Holland has argued.

“One of the benefits of cannabis as a medicine is that it stimulates a part of the brain that controls the memory, creating this forgetting effect, which can be quite profound for people who are trying to heal from addiction because it reduces the craving, it reduces the intensity of the memory of that dependence,” Simon added.

Of course, this is not to say that cannabis is innocuous, that it does not generate any kind of dependence—because it does. But, Simon’s argument is that, unlike highly addictive substances, “there is very conclusive evidence that the physical withdrawal symptoms related to cannabis are very minor for the vast majority of people.”

Now, to the actual figures.

According to recent CDC data, more than 33,000 Americans die from opioid overdoses every year. Still, doctors are prescribing them at alarming rates because, well, people are in pain—or so they say.

However, it is now known that cannabis can also have a notable effect on pain. In fact, the Drug Policy Alliance recently revealed that more than 70 percent of medical marijuana patients have felt “demonstrable and statistically significant pain-relieving effects.”

On the other hand, most opioid-related deaths derive from the addiction that patients develop rather than from the search for pain relief. So, we know pot can help with pain, but can it help with addiction?

As per a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, opiate overdoses between 1999 and 2010 had decreased by 25 percent in states where medical marijuana was legal. Conversely, figures for states without medical cannabis are surging at alarming rates.

To establish some comparison, a recent study found that states that legalized medical cannabis before 2014 had seen 23 percent less opioid-induced hospital visits than those where marijuana remained illegal.

So, if you’re fighting with pain or addiction to any kind of prescription drugs, ask your doctor about the cannabis alternative, Simon explained.

For further info on how cannabis can help replace alcohol and prescription drugs, like Vicodin or Fentanyl, check out this Green Flower Media online class with UC Berkeley’s Amanda Reiman, PhD, and this one with Harvard-trained doctor Gregory L. Smith, MD, MPH.

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