Medical Cannabis An Opioid Alternative? CDC Challenged To Study
Since the 1990s, opioids have been prescribed in ever-increasing numbers to relieve chronic pain. That willingness to prescribe addictive medicines has resulted in a long-lasting epidemic of epic proportions. Opioid painkillers are famously addictive and lead too many users down a dark rabbit hole to a heroin habit, because heroin is cheaper and easier to obtain.
Apart from addiction and death (as if those weren’t bad enough), opioid use can cause many more problems, with very severe side effects for those who live through the treatment. Major issues involve the liver, digestive tract, and endocrine system. In fact, opioid-induced constipation has become such a widespread problem that a medication to relieve it was advertised during the Super Bowl!
A call to action
Finally, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has been called upon to act. In a letter dated February 8, 2016, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren asked the agency to “fill the gap in our knowledge” about “the use, uptake, and effectiveness of medical marijuana as an alternative to opioids for pain treatment in states where it is legal.” The letter also implores the CDC to “study the impact of the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana on opioid overdose deaths.”
The use of opioids has proven effective against acute (short-term) pain. But their legendary addictive properties and dubious effectiveness for chronic pain have led many in the medical profession to question the reluctance of governmental agencies to study a promising alternative option: medical cannabis.
The Journal of the American Medical Association released a study in October 2014 that found medical cannabis consumption reduced opioid-related overdose deaths. And a working paper from David Powell and Rosalie Pacula of the RAND Corporation with Mireille Jacobson of University of California Irvine arrived at a similar conclusion.
Just say no
However, federal government agencies, including the DEA, ONDCP (Office of National Drug Control Policy), and DHHS (Department of Health and Human Services), have taken an entrenched, obsessively cannaphobic stance in rigid opposition to scientific inquiry into the herb’s medical utility. This, along with the resulting classification of cannabis as a “Schedule I narcotic”, makes it extremely difficult to research and further prove or disprove the mounting evidence of medical benefits of the herb.
Schedule I drugs (such as heroin and ecstasy) are defined as those with no medical use and a high potential for abuse. Schedule II drugs (like cocaine, methamphetamine, morphine, and opium) are considered to have some therapeutic benefits along with the high potential for abuse. Schedule III includes, for example, barbiturates (a handful is an excellent suicide aid) and the dissociative ketamine, or “Special K”, a popular needle drug of abuse.
In no sane, rational sense does cannabis belong in any discussion of drugs with the lethality and addictive character of those in the schedules. In that context, relative to those other substances, herb is so mild that it’s hard to imagine what cannabis “abuse” would even look like. Spilling some while rolling a joint during the road test for your driver’s license, maybe?
Right on schedule…not
If federal agencies can be convinced to conduct the scientific studies of cannabis that are dictated by the solid evidence of its effectiveness to date, then it should be completely de-scheduled and legalized nationwide. Some have promoted re-scheduling it to a lower classification as a compromise to get the ball rolling. But committed advocates of liberty oppose that tactic as “kicking the can down the road”, necessitating yet another protracted battle later to re-re-schedule it again. To us, the schedules are no more relevant to cannabis than to wine—or to cheese puffs. Thus, we would never accept re-scheduling as victory even for an instant, and with good reason.
First and foremost, re-scheduling would enable armed government agents to continue hunting and terrorizing cannabis providers and consumers with impunity. It would prolong the weed-war wa$te of billions that could be put to better use by the taxpayers who contributed it. Re-scheduling would preserve the marginalization and oppression of ordinary people—especially those of color—for choosing a safer alternative to alcohol and other lethal drugs. It would keep cannabis illicit and consumers feeling like the wanted man who still has to sneak around in the shadows in fear. And even keeping it on the “lowest” schedule (V) would perpetuate the absurd, almost comical myth that cannabis is more dangerous and deadly than tobacco and alcohol.
Those substances literally kill millions of users every year, yet American adults are credited with the ability to partake of them at their discretion. Cannabis, having caused zero deaths in 10,000 years, should therefore be equally accessible as alcohol and tobacco. This is logical because It is indisputably a safer alternative. If it is ever to be de-stigmatized and regulated like wine, it needs to be off the schedules like wine. But until the agencies allow more studies to happen, cannabis and those who consume it are stuck in a Catch-22.
A better way to enjoy herb?
It is also worthy of note that certain undesired effects of medical cannabis are greatly reduced when it is ingested (as edibles, tinctures, etc.), as opposed to the more traditional method of smoking. Although inhalation leads to much quicker onset of effects, smoking is neither discreet nor the healthiest option for the all-important lungs.
Cannabinoids in edibles are absorbed differently by the body, passing through the digestive tract and liver. Most notably, the liver changes delta-9-THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) into the markedly more psychoactive and sedative 11-hydroxy-THC. Patients who already have compromised lungs, a sensitive throat, insomnia, or a need for privacy, are much better off eating cannabis than smoking it.
The effects of ingestion take longer to be felt, sometimes up to 90 minutes, but they also last much longer—up to 10 hours or even more, depending on the cannabis strain, the amount, the individual, what else they had consumed, and other factors. Consumers should pay close attention to serving size. It’s best to follow the credo “Start low, and go slow,” as different strains produce very different effects.
Cannabis edibles are commonly associated with high sugar or calorie intake, like cookies and brownies. The Botanical Extractor™ from MagicalButter.com makes it easy to infuse your own cooking oils, butters, and tinctures. Then, using these, you can make high-quality, high-value foods such as organic roasted turkey, pizza, or veggie stir-fry.
There are certain strains of medical cannabis whose psychoactive effects have been greatly reduced through selective breeding, while retaining the medical benefits. These strains, like the famous Charlotte’s Web, are lower in THC than most, but much higher in CBD (cannabidiol). What if they could make a dent in the nearly 50,000 deaths in the US annually attributed to drug overdoses, almost two thirds of them opioid-related? If medical cannabis were prescribed instead of opioids, those numbers could be greatly reduced.
Veterans need help
This problem particularly affects our military veterans suffering PTS (post-traumatic stress). That patient population suffers 22 suicides per day, in large part because they have no hope of their standard toxic cocktail of prescription pills ever diminishing their pain and PTS symptoms, and also because they detest being made into an addicted zombie.
Many doctors say their PTS patients are able to do without some or all of their opioid medication if they have cannabis. The positive effect of that on the patients’ lives is immeasurable. Veterans’ groups are clamoring for the Veterans’ Administration to be allowed to provide full, equal access to medical cannabis for all veterans who need it, regardless of state of residence.
It’s gratifying that the CDC and other agencies have had their cages rattled. We will watch and see what they do. It is incredibly heartbreaking that so many have had to lose their lives to lead us to this point. It’s time to recognize the pain and suffering that Americans have experienced and are experiencing. And it’s time to demand that the federal government step up and take action.
A good first step: The president or the secretary of DHHS could order the DEA to immediately remove cannabis from the Schedule of Controlled Substances. Then, we need more universities and providers to conduct larger and more comprehensive clinical trials. As six U.S. senators said in a July 2015 letter to those agencies, “There is no substitute for rigorous preclinical and clinical research on the potential benefits of medical marijuana…We believe the federal agencies have both an opportunity and a responsibility to craft a sensible research and public health strategy that allows us to generate meaningful data and conclusions.”
Why should we, the people, have to ask again?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amber Boone considers writing the cornerstone of communication. She interviews MMA (mixed martial arts) athletes for CombatPress.com and opines on MMA at FightItOut.com. She’s passionate about helping folks tell their stories and making the world a better place, which includes working to win the freedom of Americans to partake of the herb. When not writing or playing beach volleyball, she can be found at her day job—for now. Follow Amber on Twitter @thruthetrees11.