Drug addiction was once thought only to affect individuals who took illicit drugs, but in recent years, we have learned that they are not the only problem. With the rise in prescription drug use, mainstream America has found that addiction doesn’t only happen in darkened alleyways and abandoned houses. In truth, the fastest growing addictions are among those who legally obtain their medications. Though some may blame large pharmaceutical companies, others point to doctors who irresponsibly write prescriptions. But the fact of the matter is anyone can become addicted when using such powerful medications.
Opioid addiction is now considered to be the worst crisis facing America. An estimated 2 million Americans are addicted, and more than 350,000 individuals have died due to an opioid-involved overdose during the last two decades. While those numbers are staggering on their own, when you factor in individuals who have been killed or harmed by someone abusing opioids, opioid addiction is understandably considered an epidemic.
There have been a number of treatments suggested and tested, and medical marijuana has been approved in many states for opioid addiction treatment.
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What are Opioids?
Opioids are a potent pain-relieving class of medication, also known as narcotics. They can include prescription pain relievers such as Oxycodone and Morphine, as well as illicit drugs like heroin. These drugs alter the way the brain responds to pain and pleasure by attaching to specific receptors. Following an immediate rush after consuming, the “high” can last anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours. For some, the pleasurable feelings of euphoria, relaxation, and calm, followed by uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, are what causes addiction.
Endorphins are hormones that are produced by the brain that can have several different functions, including causing euphoria. Opioids alter the mind by creating artificial endorphins. Abuse can cause the brain to rely so much on the artificial hormones that it eventually stops producing them naturally. Most prescription opioids are intended for short term use, but if a patient abuses them, addiction can occur quickly.
The more they are used, the more the patient tends to build up a tolerance to their effects. Tolerance, or the inability to feel the impact of medication, is one of the first signs of addiction. Unfortunately, the lack of effectiveness often causes patients to take the drug more often and at higher dosages than prescribed, increasing the risk of overdose and even death.
Once an individual becomes so reliant on a medication that they become obsessive about obtaining and using it, they are addicted. Their obsession is the most important thing because, without it, it seems that neither the body nor the mind can function even though the drug causes behavior, health, and relationship problems. Addiction is not normal; it is a disease.
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Opioid Addiction Treatment with Medical Marijuana
Despite how dangerous opioid addiction can be, it can be treated. Addiction treatment is different for each person, but the goal is to help individuals stop using these drugs and to avoid using them again in the future. When an addict ceases using opioids, they go through traumatic withdrawals. Drug withdrawal is a group of symptoms that occurs after abrupt discontinuation or decrease of medications or recreational drugs. Symptoms of withdrawal vary depending on the drug used, frequency, and level of abuse. The typical symptoms of opioid withdrawal include the following:
- Muscle aches
- Watery eyes
- Runny nose
- Excessive sweating
- Inability to sleep
- Yawning very often
- Abdominal cramping
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dilated pupils and blurry vision
- Rapid heartbeat
- High blood pressure
Medical Marijuana Used for Opioid Addiction
Several methods have been proven effective at treating opioid addiction; medical marijuana is one of them. Because cannabis is a naturally occurring plant, it is not typically addictive and has very few adverse side effects when used responsibly. Also, no one has ever died from using only cannabis or marijuana containing products.
There are three ways that cannabis can help combat the growing opioid addiction crisis in America.
- Prevention – Opioids are routinely prescribed as a pain reliever. For a short time, they can be very useful, but when used long term opioids can be dangerous. The overuse of narcotics causes patients to become dependent and eventually addicted. In 2017, NASEM (National Academies of Science and Medicine)concluded that cannabis was sufficient enough to treat chronic pain safely after a thorough review of more than 10,000 human studies. This evidence supports the long-held belief that marijuana could and should replace dangerous pharmaceuticals for pain relief.
- Better treatment options – Scientists have also studied the administration of both cannabinoids (active molecules sourced from cannabis)and opioids for decades. They have found that when taken together, cannabis will enhance the effectiveness of opioid pain relief. The result is that patients can use a lower dose of opioids to treat pain, lowering their chances of dependency and addiction.
- Recovery – As many practitioners will attest, quitting opioids with no help can be very dangerous and can cause extreme withdrawal symptoms, including convulsions. Because it can be so traumatizing to the body, most doctors recommend using medications to make the process safer and more comfortable. The problem with this is that most other treatments include drugs that have the potential for unwanted side effects as well, and in many cases, are also addictive. Marijuanais a safer alternative to these powerful medications. Many recovering addicts have reported that using marijuana during opioid detox alleviates the uncomfortable symptoms that are associated with withdrawal. This not only helps patients improve safer and faster; it has been shown to help prevent relapses as well.
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California was the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996, since that time, more than two dozen states have followed suit. As a result, researchers have discovered that in those areas, the annual opioid overdose rate averages an impressive 24.8 percent lower occurrence than in states who have not legalized its medical use. These impressive numbers have been attributed to the availability of a much better and safer treatment option, medical marijuana.
If you are living in a state where opioid use disorder qualifies patients for medical marijuana use and are concerned with your prescription opioid use, make an appointment today with a licensed provider. A better treatment option is available.
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