Medical Marijuana, otherwise known as Cannabis is a compound extracted from the Cannabis plant. It’s a psychoactive organic drug used for diverse conditions and to alleviate pain. The cannabinoids, Cannabidiol (CBD) and Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), present in marijuana act on cannabinoid receptors in the body for it to take effect.
Opioids on the other hand are a broad group of synthetic drugs that relieve pain by acting on opioid receptors. However, it’s important to note they cause severe side effects that can affect your kidneys, liver, stomach, and other organs. Opioid users also experience other side effects which include addiction and dependency. Additionally, in the event that a user discontinues use, they are likely to experience severe withdrawal effects.
Marijuana is not known to cause any major side effects that can damage your organs but is associated with some minor ones. Both drugs have medicinal properties. Marijuana has proven effective in the treatment of a wide range of neurological disorders ranging from mild disorders such as insomnia to severe ones like Parkinson’s disease and PTSD.
Opioids are used in cancer treatment and to stop diarrhea. However, people have become more aware of the numerous side effects associated with Opioids making the synthetic drugs less favorable.
Health practitioners are also opting for medical Marijuana over Opioids for the following reasons:
1. Medical Marijuana differs in the mechanism of action from opioids
Although Marijuana and Opioids are both drugs, the process they use to effect change in the body differs, this is known as the mechanism of action.
Once Cannabis is ingested, the active ingredient THC binds to cannabinoid receptors in your body. It binds to one of two receptors i.e. CB1. The other receptor is CB2.
Opium, on the other hand, binds to Opioid receptors. Specifically, the mu-opioid receptor found in the brain which is the most receptive to opium.
Different receptors when activated carry out the command for action in different ways either by inhibiting or promoting an action.
Activation of Different Receptors by Marijuana and Opioids
The principal cannabinoids found in Marijuana are Cannabidiol (CBD), and Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). CBD and THC are the compounds that exert medicinal effects on your body.
Opioids are drugs that are synthesized from naturally occurring opiates such as heroin from morphine and oxycodone from thebaine, as well as synthetic opioids such as methadone, fentanyl, and propoxyphene.
Activation of Different Receptors by Marijuana and Opioids
Cannabinoid receptors are a class of cell membrane receptors located throughout your body. The cannabinoids in Marijuana attach directly to cannabinoid receptors, therefore, effecting change in your body.
Opioids attach themselves to Opioid receptors (μ, κ, δ), which are present in the nervous system and other tissues. Opioid receptors are a group of inhibitory G protein-coupled receptors.
Marijuana’s system of interaction varies from that of Opioids
The cannabinoid receptors to which cannabinoids attach are part of the endocannabinoid system. Notice the system is named after cannabis simply because the Marijuana components were well known before scientists discovered the little known system in the human body. The endocannabinoid is an intricate network composed of cell receptors whose function is to regulate the following bodily processes: blood pressure, inflammation, immunity, neurotoxicity, digestive functions, and stress.
On the other hand, Opioid receptors when activated by Opioids are mainly responsible for analgesia, appetite, vasodilation, and mood alteration.
Variance in the effects of Marijuana and Opioids on the Body
Activation of cannabinoid receptors by Marijuana has various effects on the body like heightened senses, distorted perception of time, and a decrease in motor skills.
Opioids cause different effects on the body by altering many other systems which can result in nausea to drowsiness, constipation, and respiratory depression.
2. Medical Marijuana usage is associated with fewer side effects compared to Opioids
Marijuana’s history dates back to many centuries ago. It’s one of the oldest known plants whose medicinal properties were sought after by ancient man. As an organic product, it produces more benefits than destructive consequences and has very few side effects.
In comparison, synthetic drugs that are lab manufactured are associated with numerous side effects. Some of the major ones include respiratory depression while minor side effects are drowsiness, constipation, nausea, and vomiting.
Therefore, while it is undisputed that both Marijuana and synthetic drugs cure several disorders, the several side effects associated with Opioids make them less favorable.
Unlike Opioids, Marijuana usage is not associated with Vomiting
One of the major side effects that you might experience due to Opioid usage is nausea and vomiting. Vomiting is due to gastric stasis (brief nausea relieved by vomiting, vomiting large volumes, esophageal reflux), due to stimulation on the part of the brain that induces vomiting.
Luckily, Marijuana users don’t experience any vomiting or nausea.
Itching: A common drawback of Opioid usage
One percent of opioid users say they experience itching. The higher the dose, the more severe it is. This uncomfortable condition can be felt on the face, but can also spread throughout your entire body.
With Marijuana, regardless of the mode of use, users don’t experience any itching.
Constipation: A major cause for switching from Opioids to Marijuana
Opioid-induced constipation is very common occurring in about 95% of patients. In adverse situations, it can be dealt with pharmacologically. However, if caught at an earlier stage it can be eased with lifestyle changes like dietary fiber, fluid intake, and physical activity. If non-pharmacological measures fail stool softeners might be used to relieve constipation.
However, constipation is not associated with Marijuana use.
Respiratory Depression and Opioid Usage
Another clinical problem rampant with opioid users is respiratory depression. This is characterized by shallow breathing and is usually observed in patients who dose intravenously with no prior Opioids use. Respiratory failure can also occur where the patient gets unconscious. They may also go into a coma or even stop breathing.
Although smoking is the most common method of using marijuana, the inhalation doesn’t cause severe effects like respiratory depression.
A Decrease in Sex Hormone Levels
For people who use opioids for prolonged durations, it might lead to hypogonadism (decrease in sex hormones). Opioids can also alter the menstrual cycle in women, which is related to hormonal imbalance caused by chronic Opioid use.
3. No evidence of withdrawal effects associated with medical marijuana unlike opioids
Another issue commonly reported by Opioids users is the withdrawal effect. This is defined as the disturbance that occurs when the body is denied a drug that it has become dependent on.
The intensity and duration of withdrawal symptoms vary from one person to another, but the overall experience is generally the same. People who use heroin begin to have withdrawal symptoms within 6 to 12 hours after their last dose.
If you take longer-acting drugs such as methadone you may experience withdrawal symptoms 2 to 4 days after their last dose.
Withdrawal effects are not common with marijuana users unless the person is suffering from some psychological illness. Opioids withdrawal symptoms that are mainly reported include;
Anxiety is one of the most common withdrawal symptoms you are likely to experience as an Opioid user. It encompasses feelings of nervousness, worry, or dread.
Restlessness and Irritability
Another common yet uncomfortable withdrawal effect is restlessness and irritability. People who withdraw from using opioids become easily frustrated or upset.
Increased Sensitivity to Pain
The irony of using Opioids for chronic pain is that when they are discontinued, the user’s sensitivity to pain increases.
Insomnia is also a very common withdrawal effect associated with Opioid usage. You might be unable to get any sleep or stay asleep. Disturbance in the sleeping routine ultimately results in mood alterations.
You may experience hot and cold flashes once you stop using Opioids. Although hot/cold flashes are a rare withdrawal symptom, patients using opioids for chronic pain have reported this problem.
4. Abuse and Addiction: A major reason people prefer Medical Marijuana over Opioids
The word “abuse” when used in relation to drug use refers to the overuse of the drug whether willingly or accidentally. Opioids abuse is a real issue here in the United States.
Addiction to Opioids ultimately leads to abuse. A patient who is unable to go cope with the withdrawal effects will take the prescribed dose to function normally again. If the dose proves ineffective they are likely to take an additional amount. Continued usage in an effort to deal with the withdrawal effects can result in addiction.
Opioids abuse has become rampant and has unfortunately found its way to a special section of the population (pregnant women). The most notable consequence of Opioid abuse by expectant women is that more infants are being born with neonatal abstinence syndrome or NAS.
Marijuana users have not reported any cases of abuse or addiction apart from people suffering from psychological conditions.
What causes Opioid Abuse
Opioids send a signal to the brain and body that the drug is necessary for survival. This survival instinct leads the patients to believe that they cannot do without the drug. Ultimately, the patient becomes so dependent on the substance that he or she cannot live without it. This dependence is what leads to addiction.
Cause of Addiction
Addiction mainly occurs due to a lack of willpower on the part of the patient, when they don’t put any effort into getting better and quit.
This perception is erroneous and addiction is far more complex than many people realize.
As you get used to the daily dosage prescribed, the drug slowly becomes ineffective at reducing pain. Therefore, to cope with the pain, you end up increasing the dosage. This gradual increase in dosage means that the original lower dose is no longer effective.
Signs of Opioid abuse
Some common signs associated with Opioids abuse Include:
- Getting very tired and lethargic
- Loss of interest in activities
- Loss of interest in personal hygiene
- Odd sleeping habits
- Drastic mood swings
- Decreased sense of responsibility
How To Avoid Opioid Abuse
Although Opioid abuse is a serious issue, it can be overcome with dedication and some care. You should consult a physician or pain medicine specialist on how to use Opioids safely.
Exploring alternative options for Opioids like medical Marijuana is also a good way to curb opioid addiction.
How to Counter Abuse
If you or a loved one has already fallen into the deadly trap of addiction, the first step is to find a physician or other health professional who can help.
Ask your physician for a referral to a professional in addiction medicine. Physicians mostly taper off the Opioids while giving an alternate medication for pain.
5. Medical Marijuana: A Great Alternative to avoid Opioid Tolerance
Tolerance or drug resistance is a condition where a patient develops a tolerance to a particular quantity of a drug and their condition cannot be managed with that quantity of the drug. Therefore, to experience any form of relief the concentration of the drug has to be increased and this becomes a continuous process. It’s important to note that tolerance is proportional to both dosage and time. The more drugs you take, the more you end up needing them.
The development of tolerance is one of the main reasons why Opioid abuse is such a huge problem in the United States.
Marijuana causes no such effect since users are yet to report any symptoms of tolerance. Tolerance associated with Opioids use is one of the many reasons why Opioid addiction is a major problem.
Cause of Tolerance
Opioid tolerance is caused by reduced responsiveness to an opioid such as morphine. It is usually manifested by the need to use increasing doses to achieve the desired effect.
Marijuana, on the other hand, causes no such side effects and is a safe alternative to Opioids.
Countering Tolerance and the Role of Marijuana
Opioid tolerance can be countered by controlling the dose and avoiding prolonged use. Tolerance can also be prevented by avoiding switching from one opioid to another since this causes your body to adapt to different Opioids, therefore, increasing the chances of Opioid tolerance.
Long term use of Marijuana has no such side effects, though some patients may suffer from psychological disorders.
Tapering off Opioids
Tapering off means to gradually decrease the amount until a very low concentration or no opiates are required by the patient.
The dosage of Opioids is gradually decreased over the course of time until it is completely stopped. As the body receives lower doses, it slowly adapts and gets used to low concentrations and eventually no Opioids. Hence, Opioid dependence and tolerance are managed. Although it is possible to completely eliminate opiates from your body and for users to no longer need the drug, this process can take years to accomplish.
Marijuana does not need to be tapered off as it does not cause any sort of dependence or addiction.
Marijuana the best Alternative to Opioids
Marijuana is the best alternative to Opioid use. This is because while it is just as beneficial as Opioids for pain reduction, it doesn’t cause addiction or tolerance.
Marijuana is also preferred over Opioids because it doesn’t cause severe side effects nor does it cause permanent organ damage. However, Opioids are quite notorious for extensive side effects. Marijuana is also considered beneficial to a patient’s psychological wellbeing while Opioids can actually worsen a person’s psychological health.
Due to the addictiveness that Opioids cause patients suffering from chronic pain, it is wise to consider alternatives. Pharmaceutical alternatives for Opioids are ibuprofen, acetaminophen, aspirin, and steroids. These are good alternatives not only for pain relief but they also don’t cause severe side effects.
Non-pharmaceutical alternatives are physical therapy, acupuncture, exercise, surgery, radio waves, nerve blocks, and Marijuana. Although some of these could take more time to give results, they are healthier alternatives.
6. Risk of overdose: Medical Marijuana wins over Opioids
Opioids have the potential to cause dependence which is characterized by a strong urge to take more Opioids, loss of control over Opioid use, continuous Opioid use despite harmful consequences, increased tolerance, and several withdrawal reactions when Opioids are discontinued.
All these factors lead to Opioid overdose because substance tolerance and dependence builds up. This causes the patient to take more Opioids to get rid of the pain.
This Opioid overdose could result in non-reversible side effects. In some severe cases, an opioid overdose could be fatal. That is why Opioids dosage is handled with extreme care.
Marijuana has no such effects which makes it a much safer alternative to Opioids.
Overdose indicators associated with Opioid use
Opioids affect the part of your brain that regulates breathing. In high doses, Opioids can lead to respiratory depression and even death. The three major indicators of Opioid overdose are pinpoint pupils, unconsciousness, and respiratory depression.
Taking Opioids with other medications can increase the risk of overdose and respiratory depression. Opioid overdose has skyrocketed in recent years, due to the increased use in the management of chronic non-cancer pain.
The Population at Risk of Opioid Overdose
If you are dependent on Opioids, you are more vulnerable to opioid overdose. People who inject Opioids are also at risk of developing Opioid overdose.
Patients using Opioids together with other medications, patients who have lowered immunity, or suffering from severe diseases like HIV are at greater risk.
Marijuana, on the other hand, causes no such problem which makes it a perfect alternative.
Role of Marijuana in Prevention of Opioid Overdose
The best way to prevent Opioid overdose is to carefully taper off Opioids by using alternatives. During this period there are pointers that are effective in preventing drastic outcomes.
Reduction in Opioid prescriptions, monitoring Opioid dosage, and limiting the sale of over the counter Opioids can prevent Opioid overdose.
Considering these factors, over the counter medical marijuana is available at medical marijuana dispensaries, which is safer and an organic alternative to Opioids.
Emergency Response to Opioid Overdose
Prevention of fatalities related to Opioid overdose is possible through basic life support and timely administration of Naloxone, an opioid antagonist. Naloxone, an antidote to opioid overdose, will reverse the effects of an opioid overdose if administered on time.
Naloxone is quite effective when administered through intravenous, intramuscular, subcutaneous, and intranasal routes of administration.
Overdoses are usually witnessed by friends or family members. Therefore, if these people have access to Naloxone, they may help patients reverse the effects of Opioid overdose before medical care arrives.
7. Organic Marijuana v/s Inorganic Opioids
The difference between organic and inorganic drugs is that organic drugs are manufactured from natural substances extracted from plants or animals. Whereas, inorganic or synthetic drugs are manufactured from chemical components.
The benefits of organic drugs are quite evident since they don’t cause severe side effects or organ damage. On the other hand, inorganic or synthetic drugs are known to cause severe side effects and organ damage mainly to the kidneys and liver.
Organic drugs are not easily accessible. However, their synthetic counterparts are widely available, in the pharmaceutical industry.
Inorganic Opioids: The Trouble Makers
Inorganic Opioids are considered harmful because although they are effective in alleviating chronic pain like the pain associated with cancer, their side effects can wreak havoc to your body.
Side effects range from minor sleep disorders to respiratory depression and addiction. Synthetic Opioids mimic organic compounds, but they possess highly processed chemicals.
Your body will have difficulty processing synthetic drugs, which makes them harder to metabolize. This is the reason why these drugs are more likely to induce toxicity and adverse side effects.
Organic Marijuana: The Medical Miracle
Organic Marijuana is considered a godsend since it doesn’t cause severe side effects. Additionally, it can also cure the problem, for which it is prescribed.
Severe side effects like respiratory depression are not associated with Marijuana. However, Marijuana use could result in some very minor side effects like redness of the eyes as well as drowsiness. However, these are easy to control.
Being an organic drug, your body has no difficulty in metabolizing Marijuana. For this reason, immediate effects are observed shortly after consumption. At the same time, there are minimal side effects.
Marijuana Replacing Opioids in These Modern Times
Studies show that the states in which medical marijuana laws had been implemented have a 5.88% lower rate of opioid prescriptions. Where recreational use is legalized, there is a 6.38% reduction in the prescription of Opioids.
Considering that millions of opioid prescriptions were not issued, sold, or abused, it can be inferred that opiate use was avoided, or at least reduced.
The same study also illustrates that Opioids and cannabinoids (the active molecules in Marijuana) use overlapping signaling systems in the body, which is related to drug tolerance, pain, and dependence.
This common mechanism would support and help explain why patients experience a decreased need for Opioids once they switch to medical cannabis.
More research is still underway on the use of medical marijuana for other disorders. Researchers are seeking to find ways that patients can benefit from the medicinal properties of Marijuana without any side effects. The research potential for medical Marijuana is great.
The priority is to make cannabis a safe drug. A drug that you can use without the fear of getting high, developing side effects or dependence, addiction, or tolerance. It is easy to get your medical marijuana card after getting assessed by licensed doctors at MDBerry.