3 Medicinal Cannabis Alternatives to Opioid Medication

For all of the positive results that opioid-based medicines possess to help patients treat and manage severe pain from surgical procedures or chronic pain brought on by medical conditions, the nation-wide epidemic of dependency, abuse, and overdoses caused by addiction to opioid-based drugs is a serious concern by both patients and doctors. Especially given that chronic pain has been labeled as the most common factor that plays into long-term disability.

As a result, doctors and patients are reconsidering the use of traditional medications that are frequently prescribed to treat pain, and looking at safer, natural alternatives for pain treatment. Medicinal cannabis is playing an increasingly prominent and visible role in the discussion and distribution of medical solutions that are more sustainable and safer.

A recent Harvard review that included more than 10 research studies was able to support claims that marijuana that can be successfully used to treat chronic and neuropathic pain. There were 6 studies that focused on chronic pain, and 5 studies that centered around neuropathic pain. In each category, all 6 and all 5 studies demonstrated with strong proof that the use of cannabis was instrumental in effectively diminishing symptoms associated with chronic pain.

 

Illinois Is Leading the Way

In August of this year, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed into law a measure that helped to expand access to medical cannabis in Illinois. The measure made medical cannabis available as a replacement to opioid-based painkillers, and also made applying for it easier for patients who qualify.

The law was issued as a response to the nearly 2,000 people in Illinois who died from narcotic overdoses in 2016, and the more than 72,000 people who died in 2017 nationwide. It allows doctors to prescribe medical cannabis for any patient of theirs who would normally be prescribed prescriptions for drugs such as OxyContin, Percocet, or Vicodin, which are all opioid-based medications.

 

Strains vs. Opioids in Pain Treatment

Despite many of the restrictions that still surround the use of cannabis, medical cannabis is becoming more desired as a pain-reliever that can reduce specific kinds of chronic pain, such as nerve damage and inflammatory pain.

Mounting evidence is showing that cannabis can be just as effective at treating pain as opioids, and in a University of Michigan study that was released in 2016, when cannabis was available, the use of opioid drugs by patients fell by 64%. An improvement in the quality of life for these patients also increased as the negative side effects from other medications lessened.

 

3 Medical Cannabis Choices for Relief

There’s limited research that’s known about the best strains for chronic pain as there is so much variation between patients, but smaller studies and anecdotal evidence have outlined some distinct types of cannabis can help reduce and relieve certain kinds of pain. For chronic pain, here are general three strains of medicinal cannabis that are often recommended and used by patients:

 

  • Cannabis Indica – from the results of a 2014 online survey that sampled 95 respondents and was featured in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, participants had a preference of the Indica strain medical cannabis because it helped them to better manage their pain, provide more calming relief, and helped them achieve more restful sleep.

 

Indica was noted as having a significant effect on non-migraine headaches, neuropathy, spasticity, and joint pain.  

 

  • Cannabis Sativa – the same participants expressed a preference for the Sativa strain to help them improve their energy and mood.

 

  • Cannabis Hybrids – hybrids are a mix of the Sativa and Indica strains. They can produce effects in both the mind and the body. And because of breeding programs around the world, it’s widely known that there are very few pure Indica and Sativa strains.

 

Prescription for the Future

Monumental prospects are out there for cannabis to begin playing an essential role in the generation of prescribed medicines. Right now, there are many state-regulated programs that are proving that there are big benefits within the medical cannabis industry, especially with the many cannabis-infused products that are available for patients and customers in dispensaries.

Pharmaceutical companies are finding that the alternatives to prescription opioid drugs in cannabis-infused products is an opportunity to bring about positive change in the medical industry, especially for patients who rely on opioid-based medications to treat chronic pain. Pharmaceutical companies are also realizing that because of the positive response to medical cannabis and its effectiveness by physicians and patients, there’s a lot of potential in the future for replacing opioid drugs—whose addictive tendencies has reached epidemic proportions— with medical cannabis alternatives.         

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