mmj patients use less opioids
mmj patients use less opioids

MMJ Patients Report Using Less Opioids and Alcohol, But They Aren't Telling Their Doctor About Cannabis Says New Study

Why are medical marijuana patients using less opioids but not telling their doctor about it?

Posted by:
DanaSmith on Tuesday Jul 19, 2022

mmj patients less opioids

MMJ Patients Report Using Fewer Opioids And Alcohol, Says New Study

But Why Aren’t They Telling Their Physicians About It?


Opioid medications are widely prescribed by doctors themselves in order to treat pain especially in severe cases. Tramadol, fentanyl, and morphine are the most widely used opioid drugs but while they are effective in treating pain, they have also been abused and misused without medical supervision.


With over 50 million Americans struggling with chronic pain, which can oftentimes be so debilitating that it prevents anyone from living a normal life, we need a safe solution for treating it.


This has caused an opioid epidemic not just in the United States but globally. According to the World Health Organization,  half a million deaths are caused by drug use while over 70% of them are associated with opioid misuse. Over 30% of those deaths  are due to opioid overdoses which could have easily been prevented. But because of the addictive quality of opioids, many patients find themselves dependent – thus using more than they need to. The dangerous part is that it’s far too easy to overdose since there is only a fine line between a regular dose and an overdose – a single miscalculation can result in death. But with more than 62 million people using opioid around the world, where do we even begin with treatment?


In addition, alcohol is a controlled substance yet it's so easy to access even for the youth that's why so many people tend to abuse alcohol.  Alcohol has become so  deeply ingrained in our culture that when people  want to go for a drink after work due to a stressful day, nobody even blinks an eye. Yet, alcohol kills three million people worldwide each year.


You know there’s something wrong with society when things that kill us are easily accessible and misused.


In this regard, cannabis legalization has been a lifesaver, at least in the places where it's already legal. Data shows us that in places where marijuana has been legalized,  and where medical marijuana patients are able to access their safe and natural medicine, people choose to use less opioids an alcohol.


One recent study from Canada has shown that almost 1 in every 2 medical marijuana patients have been able to either stop or cut down on their consumption of alcohol and opioids. The researchers, who were  from both the United States and Canada, polled around 3,000 patients who are enrolled in the country’s federal medical marijuana program.  There, recreational marijuana has been legal since 2018 while medical cannabis has been legal since 2001.


Researchers reported that 47% of respondents admitted to using marijuana instead of other controlled substances. Among those who said that they used marijuana instead of prescription drugs, half of them said that they were using it instead of opioids. Several respondents also admitted that they use cannabis in order to reduce their alcohol consumption.  It was also interesting to note that around one-third of the respondents didn't disclose to primary physicians that they were actually substituting drugs, which can be dangerous because weaning off addictions to alcohol and opioids require medical supervision and it can be dangerous to mix them.


“This study examined patient-provider communication patterns concerning cannabis use and substitution in Canada,” the authors concluded. “Results suggest that patients often substitute cannabis for other medications without PCP (primary care providers) guidance. The lack of integration between mainstream healthcare and medical cannabis could likely be improved through increased physician education and clinical experience,” they add.


“Future studies should investigate strategies for effectively involving PCPs in patient care around medical cannabis with specific focus on substitution and harm reduction practices,” they add.


The Problem with The Federal Status of Cannabis


Given how effective cannabis is at treating pain, do we still need to prescribe opioids to patients and risk their death?


Numerous widely consumed pain medications including opioids simply do not work well in mitigating pain and have serious side effects. Thankfully, there is a movement to decriminalize cannabis not just in the United States but in other countries so that patients can use it for pain as well as many other conditions. There is strong scientific evidence that cannabinoids are powerful in treating pain and other difficult-to-treat conditions including epilepsy and PTSD. The problem is that there are still many among the medical community who are wary about marijuana most especially because it’s still a Schedule I substance in the United States.

Even if cannabis could be prescribed by doctors, we still lack enough data on just how much to recommend and which administration route would work best. We do, however, have studies that can point us in the right direction but oftentimes patients end up self-medicating and refuse to disclose to their primary care physician that they use cannabis because of its legal status.


Nothing makes sense for as long as cannabis is a Schedule I substance, while synthetic cannabinoids and extracts are delisted to Schedule III. If marijuana is finally rescheduled, this would empower doctors and physicians who want to help patients come up with a safe solution for treating their pain with a reliable dose and formulation. It also makes no sense for patients who go to pain clinics in the United States to be prescribed with opioids, then for patients to get discharged if they test positive for marijuana.


At the end of the day, why are we even allowing pharmaceutical companies to market opioids as if they work? The evidence is there – these dangerous drugs do not work well and pose a serious threat to our lives and society as a whole.



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