The New York Times reports on a study that shows a lower number of opioid overdoes in states with medical marijuana programs where patients are using medical cannabis for pain relief. Opioids can offer benefits to patients that suffer from severe pain. However a professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and co-director of the Johns Hopkins Centre for Mental Health and Addiction Policy Research, Colleen Barry has a few things to say on the matter.
She says there has been a rise in opioid prescriptions which has led to serious public health repercussions in the form of overdoses. The CDC has asked doctors to be cautious in prescribing opioid drugs. However, it would appear that medical cannabis could contribute to reducing opioid related overdoses and deaths.
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What medical cannabis studies have shown
Barry and her colleagues used state-level death certificate data from 1999 to 2010, to see how medical cannabis is impacting on opioid related deaths. The results of their study showed that significantly less opioid overdoses occurred in states with medical cannabis programs.
However, Barry stresses that this research does not indicate that medical cannabis can be used to treat opioid addiction, and says that people should be careful about reading too much into the results she obtained. The study, she says, merely indicates that there is a possibility that medical cannabis is a safe pain reliever, and further studies will be needed to confirm this.
Some studies have shown that medical cannabis seems to have pain relieving effects, but Barry says that further research has to be conducted to be able to thoroughly support the argument on whether cannabis is a better alternative to the drugs already out there in use.
Barry says that she and her colleagues do not know whether the legalization of cannabis for recreational purposes will have an impact, negatively or positively on the non-medical use of opioid drugs and heroin.
Medical cannabis for pain : further research needed?
Although Barry’s study is cautious about saying that medical cannabis is safe, we do know that how it is used and what form of cannabis is used would impact on its safety. For example, smoking is a health risk, and THC makes people high, an effect that can lead to psychosis or make people more accident prone.
On the other hand, taking medical cannabis in the form of CBD oil eliminates these risks since hemp oil, while being credited with many of the same properties as marijuana, does not make those who use it ‘stoned’.
To settle the question of safety in a scientific way, more research is certainly needed, and it will be interesting to see how CBD fares as a pain reliever when compared with THC.
Have your say
Despite all the debate, a study confirms the fact that most medical cannabis users are hoping to relieve chronic pain, and a look back into history shows that cannabis has been thought of as a means of pain relief for centuries.
What is your personal opinion or experience? Do you believe that medical cannabis could offer a safe painkiller alternative?