Can Medical Cannabis Solve North America’s Opioid Epidemic?

With the Opioid Epidemic taking over North America, will Medical Marijuana dispensaries begin to replace pharmacies in providing adequate pain medication? It is seeming like more of a possibility, as scientists are allocating more time and money to study marijuana’s effects on pain, dispensaries are diversifying their medicinal products, and the American government is slowly changing its mind. With opioids accounting for over 75% of overdose deaths and the number rising each year, medical marijuana as a pain alternative is at least worth looking into.

  • What Scientists are doing
  • The Emergence of CBD
  • What the government is doing

Scientists are Taking Notice

Closer to Medicine than One May Think

Many scientists think marijuana as an alternative pain medication is worth researching. On a small scale study based around a Michigan dispensary from 2013-2015, there was a 64% decrease in patients’ opioid usage. The reasons varied based on each patient. However, many reported switching to marijuana because it had far less serious side effects compared to their prescribed opioid.

A large argument against medical marijuana is that it possesses no actual pain relieving components. However, science has proven that a myth. Delta-9 Tetrahydrocannabinol (Delta-9 THC), Cannabidiol (CBD), Cannabinol (CBN) and Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV) have all been proven to possess pain relieving components. With scientists recognizing these painrelieving attributes and dispensaries providing a range of products with different levels of these components, marijuana is clearly showing its medical value.

A Natural Pain Killer

The Emergence of CBD


Products with high levels of Cannabidiol (CBD), like tinctures and lotions (salves), have been emerging as the primary pain relieving medication for medical marijuana patients. That means patients don’t have to smoke anything or swallow a pill to get their medicine.

Products with CBD don’t produce the sense of Euphoria or “feeling high” like regular marijuana. Instead, CBD is effective in reducing pain, inflammation and discomfort. CBD keeps your body from absorbing anandamide, a compound associated with pain regulation. The one downside is side effects have been tough to figure out with some patients reporting nausea, trouble sleeping, weight gain, and irritability. However, no individual side effects have been medically determined yet. Also, when you compare these potential side effects with those of opioids — like liver damage, chemical dependence, constipation, abdominal distension and more, CBD seems like the wiser choice.

Mixed Opinions in the U.S. Government

Jeff Sessions isn’t Budging

Even the government has started to take notice to the potentially positive effects of Medical Marijuana for opioid users suffering from chronic pain. States with medical marijuana saw a 23% decrease in opiate dependence or abuse according to a study this past April. In August The National Institutes of Health awarded 3.8 million dollars to researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Health Systems for the first long-term study on whether or not marijuana reduces opioid use among adults with chronic pain due to HIV. The study will take place over an 18-month period, where subjects using opioids to manage their pain will be licensed for medical marijuana. Then every two weeks, subjects will fill out questionnaires focusing on their pain levels and daily usage of opioids and/or marijuana. They will also provide both blood and urine samples every three months for further analysis.

While studies such as the one mentioned above are a step in the right direction to exploring the relationship between marijuana and opioid usage, there is still plenty of opposition within the United States Government to medical marijuana.

“I’ve never felt that we should legalize marijuana,” Jeff Sessions said during his speech in September during a San Diego press conference where he also announced record-breaking seizures by the U.S. Coast Guard in 2017. “It doesn’t strike me that the country would be better if it’s being sold at every street corner.”

With 29 states having some sort of medicinal marijuana available and more state governments working towards it, Sessions seems to be fighting a slowly losing battle.

There is no denying marijuana possesses medical value. The only question is how much value compared to the preexisting pain medications. With the increase of scientific studies, diversification of marijuana products and a loosening government, we may be closer to reducing the opioid epidemic by replacing it with medical marijuana.