The benefits of using medical marijuana to treat opioid addiction

Legalizing marijuana is all the rage lately in news headlines and courtrooms and public debates all over the country. A major push behind proponents’ viewpoints is the benefits of medical marijuana to treat many widespread health issues including everything from migraines to anxiety to arthritis. Recent studies have shown medical marijuana also has potential to be a key player in treating opioid addiction.

What is an opioid?

Opioids are a class of drugs including heroin, fentanyl, and prescription painkillers such as hydrocodone, codeine, oxycodone, and morphine. The opioid epidemic continues to rage in the U.S., claiming more than 300,000 lives thus far and relapse is a pervasive problem, with little relief in sight. Alarmingly, more than 130 people in the U.S. die every day and if that is not concerning enough, the opioid crisis has a tremendous negative effect on social and economic welfare.

Two common treatments for opioid addiction today are methadone and buprenorphine, which ironically go to work on the same opioid receptors as heroin and its counterparts. The treatments carry their own addiction risk and are highly regulated. In fact, many opioid addicts refuse to use them due the treatments’ own bad rap. To that end, researchers are working on potential substitute treatments and that’s where medical marijuana comes in.

Medical marijuana

Cannabidiol (CBD) derives from the cannabis plant but does not produce the high associated with smoking marijuana. Medical marijuana refers to using the entire, unprocessed plant or related extracts to treat illness. Since the plant contains beneficial chemicals that could potentially treat an array of health issues, many states have already legalized medical marijuana.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has conducted thousands of clinical trials in studying risks and benefits of CBD medication but to date, a consensus has not been reached.

For example, some studies using a placebo and CBD found that CBD reduced cravings and anxiety much more than the placebo and holds great promise in treating opioid addiction. Researchers at California’s Mount Sinai Hospital went on to say that a non-opioid medication would be an effective addition to the “existing addiction medication toolbox to help reduce the growing death toll, enormous health care costs, and treatment limitations imposed by stringent government regulations amid this persistent opioid epidemic.”