Opioid drugs, which quickly enter the bloodstream and act upon an individual’s nervous system in order to relieve pain, are some of the most potent and addictive drug substances currently in existence. There may be some limited medical usefulness for prescription opioids, as in cases where individuals are suffering from moderate to severe and chronic pain. Unfortunately, even in situations where an individual begins by taking his prescription opioids exactly as advised, he may yet begin to abuse these drugs. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, prescription opioids are among the most commonly abused prescription drugs in our country, contributing to an increase in emergency room visits, rehabilitation treatment admissions and overdose deaths over the past decade and a half.
Health professionals obviously have a big responsibility to ensure that they are not contributing to the problem by overprescribing opioid medications, and by keeping a close eye on patients who have been prescribed these medications in order to detect indications of drug abuse, dependence or addiction. However, once an individual has become addicted to opioids, their route out of this nightmare is anything but fast or easy. It is incredibly dangerous for an individual to simply stop taking opioid medications, or even illicit opioids like heroin, “cold turkey” as it can shock the body–sometimes with fatal results. Using opioids to treat opioid addiction, as is the case with methadone, can also be problematic as it can cause the individual to simply become dependent upon and addicted to the new medication. Desperate for a solution, researchers have turned to a new possibility: marijuana.
Using Marijuana as an “Exit Drug”
According to a study in Canada, many individuals who use marijuana are actually substituting it for other drug substances, like prescription drugs–including prescription opioids–alcohol, benzodiazepines, antidepressants, tobacco and illicit drugs. A cannabis delivery company in California recently released survey results that indicate that eighty-two percent of marijuana consumers admit to drinking less alcohol as a result of their marijuana consumption, while another eleven percent of marijuana consumers admit they abstain from all alcohol consumption now that they use marijuana. Additionally, the same survey results indicate that ninety-five percent of marijuana consumers admit to using fewer pain pills than they had prior to their marijuana use.
There are other similar surveys and studies that boast similar results–including a University of Michigan study that determined that medical marijuana consumers experienced a sixty-four percent reduction in prescription opioid use. This has, of course, led to the assumption that marijuana may indeed be a useful “exit drug” that can aid in resolving opioid addiction. The University of Michigan study went on to say that when used with opioid medications, marijuana can actually bring about better pain relief, which can allow one to safely and slowly reduce their opioid use. Marijuana use also seems to help prevent an individual from becoming tolerant of opioid drugs or from experiencing the uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous side effects of opioid drug withdrawal.
Solving the Problem
While it is certainly true that opioid addiction is a significant problem and that any solution would, therefore, seem highly desirable, one must carefully consider the solution presented. It could be argued that marijuana is the “safer” of the two drugs, but the fact is that it too is a drug substance. This means that marijuana can also create health problems, can also be abused, and can lead to tolerance, dependence, and addiction problems.
It is possible for an individual to resolve opioid addiction without the aid of any other drug substances. This does not mean that it will be a quick or easy process, but the bottom line is that the individual who desires absolute freedom from drug substances can actually have it with the right treatment program and support.