Most people assume that those who suffer from drug addiction take illegal drugs such as heroin or cocaine. And although many do, there is a growing number of individuals in the UK becoming addicted to prescription medications too. This is not a problem limited to those in the United Kingdom, however. All across the world, individuals are being prescribed opioid medications that are highly addictive.
Prescription medication is used for relief from chronic pain or to treat those who have had a surgical procedure. Painkillers such as Vicodin and OxyContin can become very addictive, and many people find they suffer withdrawal symptoms when they try to stop taking them.
The reality is that prescription medications do carry the risk of addiction but, in general, they are safe to take if taken as prescribed. The problem is that most people are unaware of the dangers of misusing these medications and assume that these must be safe as a doctor has prescribed them. However, the rising number of deaths due to abuse of prescription drugs tells a different story.
Experts in the US believe that the opioid epidemic sweeping the States could be tackled if patients were prescribed medical marijuana to treat conditions such as chronic pain instead of being given opioid medications.
In a new study, patients being given medical marijuana reported a sixty-four per cent reduction in prescription medication use. This is welcome news, considering that just in 2014 there were 19,000 deaths in the US from abuse or misuse of prescription medications.
Dr Daniel Clauw, the senior study author, said, We are learning that the higher the dose of opioids people are taking, the higher the risk of death from overdose. The magnitude of reduction in our study is significant enough to affect an individuals risk of accidental death from overdose.
An Alternative Treatment
The aim of the study was to determine if cannabis would be more effective as a treatment for those with severe chronic pain for whom opioid medication is not always effective. Dr Clauw said, We hypothesized that cannabis might be particularly effective for the type of pain seen in conditions such as fibromyalgia, since there are many studies suggesting that synthetic cannabinoids work in those conditions.
As well as reducing the intake of opioid medications, those who participated in the study also reported that they experienced fewer side effects and a 45 per cent improvement in their quality of life when taking medical marijuana. Nevertheless, it is important to point out that it was the patients with less severe chronic pain who reported the improved quality of life and the reduction in opioid use.
Another study author, Kevin Boehnke, added, We would caution against rushing to change current clinical practice towards cannabis, but note that this study suggests that cannabis is an effective pain medication and agent to prevent opioid overuse.
Marijuana Use in the UK
Unlike many states in the US, marijuana is not legal in the UK. Nonetheless, at the moment, there is one prescription drug known as Sativex that contains two cannabinoids (Cannabidiol and Tetrahydrocannabinol) and is used to treat pain caused by multiple sclerosis.
Many campaigners have been calling for the Government to change the laws to allow doctors to prescribe the Class B drug for other conditions such as cancer pain, glaucoma, and epilepsy in children. Research is currently being carried out to test the effectiveness for such conditions.
The US study is not the first to examine medical marijuana use as an alternative to opioid medications. A recent Israeli study published in the Journal of Pain found that patients who were prescribed cannabis for a period of six months saw a forty-four per cent reduction in prescription opioid medication use.