A drug epidemic has been plaguing America for many decades now, with little to no sign of relenting any time soon. It seems as though the further along we go, the worse it gets, as the United States becomes increasingly over-medicated, especially during the last decade. “Deaths from drug overdoses have jumped in nearly every county across the United States, driven largely by an explosion in addiction to prescription painkillers and heroin,” according to a recent article in the New York Times. It is a disturbing trend to say the least, and is a major problem that is truly plaguing our nation. As the prevalence of pharmaceutical opioids continues to increase, so do the number deaths by heroin overdose as well.
The same New York Times article cited above states that “Nationally, opioids were involved in more than 61 percent of deaths from overdoses in 2014. Deaths from heroin overdoses have more than tripled since 2010 and are double the rate of deaths from cocaine.” And this is not a problem that affects only certain segments of society. The common misconception of the addict who lives on the street, begging for money and sleeping under bridges, is not only inaccurate but is really not the norm. A recent CDC report, discussed in a story from CBS back in July of 2015 highlights the increase in heroin use among women and the more affluent in particular:
“The people most at risk for heroin addiction include whites, males, 18- to 25-year-olds, people making less than $20,000 a year, Medicaid recipients and the uninsured, the CDC report found.
But the biggest increases in heroin use in recent years were found in groups that typically aren’t expected to go near the drug, including women, people with private insurance and higher-income individuals, the report said. The gaps in heroin use between men and women, people on Medicaid or with private insurance, and those with low or high incomes have all narrowed during the past decade, the CDC said.”
One of the biggest contributing factors to the rise in heroin use and overdose deaths is the increasing availability of well marketed pain medications. Drugs like OxyContin, Vicodin, and Fentanyl have become widely prescribed for chronic and debilitating pain for years now, and often times those who are prescribed these drugs end up with an addiction to them. When the prescriptions run out and the cravings for the drug are still there, some will turn to an illicit drug, like heroin, to continue self-medicating. Unfortunately, self-prescribing and administering a drug such as heroin can have some deadly side effects.
However, there is a solution to the problem of opiate addiction and the use of addictive pharmaceuticals for pain relief that can lead to self-medication with illicit drugs like heroin. That solution is none other than the herbal remedy otherwise known as cannabis sativa. Many already know of the medicinal and pain relieving effects of medical marijuana, but not only does it offer pain relief, it may also be helpful in reducing withdrawal symptoms for those recovering from an addiction to opioids.
A few years ago, a study on opiatte and cannabinoid interactions showed some promising indications that cannabis may help mitigate the effects of opiate withdrawal during “methadone maintenance treatment,” a system of treatment for those addicted to opioids, like heroin. As it is described by Paul Armentano, Deputy Director of NORML:
“Investigators at the Farber Institute for Neurosciences at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia assessed the use of cannabis in 91 opiate-dependent subjects undergoing methadone maintenance treatment. Researchers found that subjects seeking methadone treatment who acknowledged a history of cannabis use reported ‘significantly less daily expenditure on acquisition of opiates.’
Authors additionally reported that subjects’ use of cannabis during treatment was associated with less severe symptoms of withdrawal on the clinical opiate withdrawal scale (COWS), an index designed to serve as an objective measure of opiate withdrawal. “Increased cannabis use was found to be associated with lower severity of [opiate] withdrawal in a subset of the sample with available chart data,” authors wrote. ‘These results suggested a potential role for cannabis in the reduction of withdrawal severity during methadone induction.’”
So, not only is cannabis a great natural alternative to pharmaceuticals for pain relief, but it can also help to lessen the side effects of withdrawal from opiates, once a person has become addicted. Since cannabis itself isn’t really addictive, and it has some interactions with opioid receptors in the brain, it can be both a good alternative to opiates and can also help lessen the withdrawal severity for those undergoing methadone treatment. Another study in the Natural Medicine Journal also indicates that cannabis may help make opiates more effective by potentiating the analgesic effects. So there may be ways to use cannabis to make pain killers more effective, which could lessen the risk of addiction. It’s hard to say where science and medicine might take us in regard to the therapeutic value of cannabis.