Having a chronic or life-threatening health issue can be devastating. Struggling to manage a stressful diagnosis and an often uncertain future only complicates the problems patients face every day. When you add to that debilitating pain, the outlook can be exceedingly miserable. While there are several powerful pain relievers and muscle relaxers that can and do help alleviate the pain, they can be very dangerous and often have harmful side effects of their own.
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What are Opioids?
The American healthcare system has seen a massive increase in individuals who, due to their need for powerful pain relievers, have become addicted to opioids. These addictions have only increased the difficulties of those suffering and created a crisis for the medical community. An analysis in 2016 of the total economic burden of prescription opioid abuse in the US by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) was estimated to be $78.5 billion each year and rising. These numbers included the cost of healthcare, lost productivity, substance abuse treatment, and the criminal justice system. While some may argue that the medical community has created this problem, others struggle to find better treatment options to prevent this crisis from getting any worse.
Placing blame on how this issue grew so fast and so widespread is counterproductive. The first step in stemming the tide of opioid abuse is to offer practical alternatives to these powerful medications. But how can the medical community do that? What is more effective than these addictive narcotics? The answer may surprise you.
Most people have heard of opioids, but what are they, and why are they so dangerous? Opioids are a class of drugs that include both legal and illegal substances, including heroin, fentanyl, morphine, oxycodone, and many others. All opioids are chemically related and interact with opioid receptors on nerve cells in the body and brain. For the most part, opioids are safe if they are taken for a short period and only as prescribed by the doctor. Unfortunately, due to their powerful effects, abuse, dependence, addiction, overdose, and death can easily occur. Despite what many people may think, dependence and addiction can happen very quickly and with minimal warning making these drugs some of the most dangerous.
Alternatives to Opioids
Patients who are faced with chronic or debilitating pain may be asking themselves what the alternative to opioids is? As far a pain relief is concerned, there are very few effective alternatives available. Or so many people think. Probably one of the most controversial pain relievers isn’t an FDA approved medication at all. In fact, on a federal level, it is also considered a Schedule 1 drug just like opioids.
Marijuana is a psychoactive drug derived from the Cannabis plant. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the main psychoactive chemical in the plant, but there are more than 400 other chemical compounds, including the very popular Cannabidiol (CBD). Cannabis can be consumed by smoking, vaporization, eating, or as an extract.
How effective is cannabis at controlling pain?
The effects of marijuana on pain are somewhat complicated, but it is believed that marijuana acts on specific pain pathways in the body. Cannabinoids in marijuana have analgesic (pain-relieving) and anti-inflammatory properties in addition to the suppression of the pain signals that are sent to the brain.
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In 2017, a survey was conducted with individuals who used cannabis as a substitute pain reliever for other medications. The conclusion was that 81 percent found that marijuana was more effective at treating their condition than other, more powerful drugs. In other studies, researchers found that when patients used both cannabis and opioids together, the amount of opioids needed to control the pain was significantly reduced, helping to lower the chances of the patient becoming dependent or addicted to opioids altogether.
Perhaps the most surprising fact of all is that according to a 2016 study published in the New York Times, in states that chose to legalize medical marijuana, there was a 25 percent decrease in opioid overdoses. With statistics such as these, many people may question why the federal government has not followed the state’s example and legalized cannabis for medical uses.
Individuals living in the empire state should schedule an appointment with one of the many licensed practitioners who can provide a recommendation for medical marijuana. To speed up the process, providers suggest that you bring all previous medical documentation, including any diagnostic x-rays, or MRIs to support your qualifying diagnosis. Once you have been evaluated, the practitioner will submit your information to the state’s Medical Marijuana Program, who will then issue the required ID card. Because each marijuana card expires annually, patients should schedule recertification at least two months before the expiration date.
Patients who are under the age of 18 must have a designated caregiver such as a parent or guardian who will act on behalf of the patient. If approved, the caregiver is responsible for administering, purchasing, and storing any cannabis products.
With the popularity of medical marijuana on the rise, providers found themselves inundated with patients creating a huge backlog. To ensure that all patients are seen in a reasonable amount of time, New York now allows practitioners to use telemedicine. Telemedicine is the remote diagnosis and treatment of patients using advanced telecommunications technology. While some patients may prefer to see their doctors in person, not everyone can travel with ease making telemedicine a welcome addition to the medical community.
While each state has different requirements for individuals to use medical marijuana, New York is believed to have some of the most restrictive in the country. Although many people are familiar with smoking marijuana in a joint or bong, New York has banned this form of consumption along with any edible products. Currently, the only legal means of use is through vaporization, capsules, lozenges, transdermal patches, and topicals.
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As is with alcohol, driving under the influence of medical marijuana will result in a traffic citation, and the possibility of other charges should an accident occur. Patients should only consume their medical marijuana while at home and not in public view.
If you are suffering from debilitating pain, and are considering medical marijuana, schedule an appointment today with a licensed provider. While not everyone is a candidate for use, many are. Living a pain-free life can be just around the corner.