In September 2016, President Obama highlighted the rising opioid epidemic in the United States and said, “This crisis is taking lives. It’s destroying families.” In August 2017, President Trump addressed the opioid problem by commenting, “The opioid crisis is an emergency, and I’m saying officially, right now, it is an emergency.” Regardless of your political affiliation, you have to agree that if both of these presidents are on the same side of this problem, then it must truly be a devastating issue… and it is.
What are Opioids?
Opioids are narcotic medications that are usually prescribed to people who have intense pain after surgery or an injury. They work by stopping the pain messages from registering in the brain and also create a feeling of euphoria or feeling high (which is why they are highly addictive). Unfortunately, there are many dangerous side effects that are associated with opioids.
Here are some of the most commonly prescribed opioids that you probably have heard of or have even taken:
- codeine (only sold in generic form)
- fentanyl (Duragesic, Fentora)
- hydrocodone (Hysingla ER, Zohydro ER)
- hydrocodone/acetaminophen (Lorcet, Norco, Vicodin)
- hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
- meperidine (Demerol)
- methadone (Dolophine, Methadose)
- morphine (Astramorph, MS Contin, Ora-Morph SR)
- oxycodone (OxyContin, Oxecta)
- oxycodone and acetaminophen (Percocet)
- oxycodone and naloxone (Targiniq ER)
How Dangerous are Opioids?
Opioid drugs have been in the news a lot lately because more patients are being prescribed these medications with increasingly detrimental results. Here are several ways that opioids can be hazardous to your health:
- According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, “Taken as prescribed, opioids can be used to manage pain safely and effectively. However, when abused, even a single large dose can cause severe respiratory depression and death.”
- When you take an opioid over a long period of time, your body will start to tolerate it therefore causing you to increase your dosage. This can create dependence and abuse of the medication while also increasing the potential for harm to your organs when high doses are consumed.
- Some opioids can cause seizures in patients.
- The University of Utah Health Care, explains that, “Long-term use of opioids may actually make pain worse. This is called opioid-induced hyperalgesia.” This happens because the body starts to become more sensitive to pain since the brain’s receptors have been manipulated.
- The Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR) states that heart failure is possible when taking opioids because of the sedation patients can experience.
- Patients may struggle with opioid addiction after taking it for pain due to the feelings of euphoria it has. Taking opioids long term and then stopping usage can also cause withdrawal symptoms.
- Many patients experience gastrointestinal problems such as nausea and constipation since the medication can relax the intestines and slow down bowel function.
- If a pregnant women is taking opioids, her fetus can be at risk. After birth, the baby will experience withdrawal symptoms which can include persistent crying, seizures, poor feeding habits and slow weight gain, sleep problems, sweating, and vomiting.
- Taking another medication or substance (such as sleeping pills or alcohol) can cause dangerous outcomes including death. This can also increase the chances of injury if you choose to drive or use heavy machinery since response times are slower.
- Hormones can be affected causing a lower sex drive, infertility or problems achieving erection.
Is there Really an Opioid Epidemic?
Okay, so we know that these drugs can be dangerous, but is there really an “epidemic” or “crisis”? Consider these opioid statistics:
“Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the US, with 52,404 lethal drug overdoses in 2015. Opioid addiction is driving this epidemic, with 20,101 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers, and 12,990 overdose deaths related to heroin in 2015.” – American Society of Addiction Medicine
“Over 2.5 million Americans now have an opioid use disorder.” Four times as many people died from an “opioid-related overdose” in 2015 as compared to 1999. – Harvard Law and Policy Review
“Between 2005 and 2014, the annual number of opioid-related emergency department visits doubled. Almost as many people now die from an opioid-related overdose each day as die in automobile accidents.” – Harvard Law and Policy Review
Medical Marijuana vs. Opioids
Just to level the playing field a bit, let’s talk about how both medical marijuana and opioids come from plants. Opioids are derived from the Papaver somniferum, the opium poppy, and contain a class of naturally occurring alkaloids known as opiates that include morphine and codeine (among others). Then there are synthetic opiates, called opioids, that are not found in nature but are manufactured in chemical laboratories with a similar chemical structure to the milk of the poppy plant.
There are many different cannabis strains that are collectively called “medical cannabis.” A cannabis plant includes more than 400 different chemicals and about 70 of those are cannabinoids (consider that typical FDA approved medications contain only 1 or 2 chemicals).
We’ve talked about how opioids work and their dangers, so here are some facts about medical marijuana. There are three ways that medical marijuana can help patients: to aid chronic pain, to minimize acute pain, and to lessen the cravings from opioid withdrawal.
“Cannabidiol doesn’t get you high, but it affects the receptors in your brain more indirectly… patients already seem to be replacing opioids with marijuana for chronic pain. A handful of observational studies have also found correlations between states legalizing medical marijuana and a drop in painkiller prescriptions, opioid use, and deaths from opioid overdose,” states Sarah Zhang of The Atlantic. “And in 2016, Dan Clauw and his colleagues published a survey of patients with chronic pain who started patronizing a medical marijuana dispensary. They cut their previous opioid use by two-thirds.”
Medical marijuana helps those who suffer from chronic pain while opioids aren’t helpful in these situations. Additionally, medical marijuana doesn’t pose the same precarious side effects that opioids do including dizziness, constipation, sexual dysfunction and respiratory complications.
However, not all medical marijuana is the same. Many sources use pesticides to grow these plants and high levels of mold have also been found. If you think medical marijuana might be helpful in your situation, talk to your doctor and look into purchasing a ROOT hydroponic gardening system. With ROOT, you can grow organic, non GMO medicinal plants with minimal effort and stellar results. Each growing system comes with industrial grade, energy-efficient LED grow lights so you can put it anywhere in your home and ROOT plants grow approximately 50% times faster than traditional outdoor gardening and much more time and cost-effective than creating a grow room that can cost several thousand dollars just to set up and with no guarantee of a successful harvest. With ROOT, you can manage your pain and know that you are getting the purest cannabis available without the potential problems associated with opioids.