3 New Studies Show Cannabis Can Help Fight the Opioid Epidemic

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Things happen when money drives them. The cost of the fighting opioid drug addiction is mounting exponentially. More pertinently, investors now see the potential in creating alternative medications.

Reuters reports in Scientific American, “A handful of drug makers are taking their first steps toward developing marijuana-based painkillers, alternatives to opioids that have led to widespread abuse and caused the U.S. health regulator to ask for a withdrawal of a popular drug this month.”

Cannabis advocates have been saying how beneficial cannabis can be for those seeking to break free of the opioid habit. The same advocates have emphasized the ways cannabis can treat the same medical problems that put people on the opioid path in the first place.

3 research trials seek alternatives to opiates

The Food and Drug Administration has yet to approve any painkiller derived from cannabis. The agency’s commitment to categorize cannabis/marijuana as Schedule 1 drug severely curtails and prolongs the necessary research.

However, big pharma businesses see the potential revenues in cannabis-based medications that help fight the opioid epidemic.

  • Axim Biotechnologies Inc. has sought patent approval for “a patent of invention that involves a chewing gum composition with controlled release of cannabinoids and opioid agonists and/or antagonists for addiction and/or dependence treatment.” They also expect the gum to fight chronic pain.
  • Nemus Bioscience Inc. has a unique partnership with the University of Mississippi, one of the few universities with an FDA-approved cannabis cultivation program. They have made significant progress towards delivering a cannabis-based treatment for glaucoma. But, they are also working on research with NB2111 (CBD Analog) to treat Chemotherapy-Induced Peripheral Neuropathic pain (CIPN) and other pain syndromes, an alternative to opioid painkillers.
  • Intec Pharma Ltd. Is moving forward with its AP-CBD/THC because it “holds the potential to address several major drawbacks of current methods of use and treatment with cannabis and cannabinoids, such as short duration of effect, delayed onset, variability of exposure, variability of the administered dose and adverse events that correlate with peak levels.” Intec Pharma feels this alternative to opioids will specifically address lower back pain and fibromyalgia.

Opioids like Vicodin and Oxycontin bind to the same areas in the brain that cannabinoids do. It’s the same areas that control pain, emotion, and dopamine flow. Opioids produce a sense of euphoria that requires an increasing dose and frequency of drugs to maintain the feelings and pain relief. And, that’s addiction.

3 new studies show cannabis can help fight the opioid epidemic

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports on statistical results for 2016:

  • 63,600 drug overdose deaths in the United States.
  • The age-adjusted rate of drug overdose deaths in 2016 (19.8 per 100,000) was 21% higher than the rate in 2015.

It reports no deaths resulting from an overdose of cannabis or marijuana. But, new studies show cannabis can help fight the opioid epidemic:

  • On April 24, 2018, CNN reported that Dr. Sanjay Gupta sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jess Sessions saying, “Cannabis can help treat pain, reducing the initial need for opioids. Cannabis is also effective at easing opioid withdrawal symptoms, much like it does for cancer patients, ill from chemotherapy side effects. Finally, and perhaps most important, the compounds found in cannabis can heal the diseased addict's brain, helping them break the cycle of addiction.”
  • On April 2, 2018, JAMA reported in research by Hefei Wen of the University of Kentucky and Jason M. Hockenberry of Emory University. They that state implementation of medical marijuana laws was associated with a 5.88% lower rate of opioid prescribing and the implementation of adult-use marijuana laws was associated with a 6.38% lower rate of opioid prescribing.  
  • On April 2, 2018, JAMA also published a study by Ashley C. Bradford, W. David Bradford and Amanda Abraham of the University of Georgia. They “found that at the state level, medical marijuana laws were associated with an 8.5 percent reduction in the number of daily opioid doses filled under Medicare Part D, relative to states without medical marijuana laws.” They also reported that states that approved home cultivation saw a 6.9 percent decline in opiate prescriptions.
  • In April 2017, the International Journal on Drug Policy reported a study by P. Lucas and Z. Walsh. They concluded, “Cannabis is perceived [by users] to be an effective treatment for diverse conditions, with pain and mental health the most prominent. Findings include high self-reported use of cannabis as a substitute for prescription drugs (63%), particularly pharmaceutical opioids (30%), benzodiazepines (16%), and antidepressants (12%). Patients also reported substituting cannabis for alcohol (25%), cigarettes/tobacco (12%), and illicit drugs (3%).”  

FDA-approved cannabis-based pharmaceuticals could promise consistent dosing and potency available to all patients regardless of state approvals. As is, most of the effective research has been done in Israel and Britain.

Of course, this assumes people will change fully-entrenched addictive behaviors. Recent decisions to reduce prescriptions and control manufacture of popular opiates, the criminal and exploitive black market will not surrender its influence. “Just say no” approaches simply don’t work in this climate, and Washington has yet to produce a substantial war on opiates.

3 new studies show cannabis can help fight the opioid epidemic

The recent studies reported here do not include ongoing studies focused on the treatment of specific conditions. It selectively covers those dedicated to understanding how and in what form cannabis-derived therapies offer an alternative to opioids for killing the pain.

They deserve the attention they have received and the dramatic thought leadership of Dr. Gupta.