The legalization of medical marijuana in the United States could stop the opioid crisis in its tracks by lowering the number of innocent people killed due to overdose by replacing prescription opioids in the pharmaceutical industry with medical cannabis altogether and using it to aid struggling addicts in a safe environment.
The legalization of medical marijuana in the United States could stop the opioid crisis in its tracks by lowering the number of innocent people killed due to overdose by gradually replacing prescription opioids with medical cannabis and using it as a harm reduction strategy for opioid dependents.
A Scoping Review of the Use of Cannabis and Its Extracts as Potential Harm Reduction Strategies: Insights from Preclinical and Clinical Research
It may seem counterintuitive to give hospital patients an illegal substance, but marijuana has shown to be quite effective in helping people with physical ailments. Marijuana’s ability to stimulate appetite has been beneficial to patients struggling with cancer-related anorexia or AIDS. It has also shown efficacy in decreasing inflammation for patients with rheumatoid arthritis.
Doctors and researchers are pushing to make marijuana as a harm reduction strategy more common. For someone struggling with drug addiction, it is extremely difficult to stop cold turkey. By using marijuana as a harm reduction, an addict will receive medicinal marijuana to soothe the grueling process of substance withdrawal. This method has been used before with methadone as the harm reduction, and heroin. Methadone would decrease severe withdrawal symptoms in people with a heroin addiction.
Marijuana as a HRS has been used to treat patients who have an opioid dependency and neuropathic pain. In an experiment using animal models, marijuana positively intervened in opioid withdrawal and even relapse.
There have already been cases where medicinal marijuana as a HRS has been used on actual patients, as well. Depending on the state, and if a doctor prescribes it, medicinal cannabis can be distributed to patients in the United States. But unfortunately, since marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug, it is difficult for researchers to obtain access to the drug to test its capabilities as a harm reduction drug.
Siklos-Whillans, J., Bacchus, A. & Manwell, L.A. A Scoping Review of the Use of Cannabis and Its Extracts as Potential Harm Reduction Strategies: Insights from Preclinical and Clinical Research. Int J Ment Health Addiction (2020). https://doi-org.ezproxy.rowan.edu/10.1007/s11469-020-00244-w
A safer alternative: Cannabis substitution as harm reduction.
In order to help people who are addicted to drugs, substitution and harm reduction strategies are being used. With substitution, a patient is given an alternative drug that is less addictive than the one they are currently abusing. Substitution is a common method used in harm reduction strategies, since some addicts do not see full sobriety as a realistic goal.
For many years marijuana has been called a “gateway drug,” suggesting that it leads to other, more harmful substances like opioids, cocaine, and heroin. But the use of marijuana as a harm reduction strategy says otherwise. The substitution of a substance with cannabis has shown to be an effective way to wean addicts of their harmful drug. In a study conducted on Jaimaican women who were addicted to crack, marijuana was used to lessen the amount of crack smoked. The researchers found that cannabis was the most effective and accessible drug used as a substitution for crack smoking. In studies involving alcohol abusers, they claimed that it lessened the effects of cravings and withdrawal. Marijuana was able to relax the participants and help with restless sleep and pain relief.
Marijuana is becoming a popular drug to use as a substitute for various types of people who are dependent on drugs. Patients at a cannabis dispensary in California claimed to use marijuana as a substitute for drugs like prescription pills and alcohol.
Lau, N., Sales, P., Averill, S., Murphy, F., Sato, S., & Murphy, S. (2015). A safer alternative: Cannabis substitution as harm reduction. Drug & Alcohol Review, 34(6), 654–659.
Medical Marijuana for Treatment of Chronic Pain and Other Medical and Psychiatric Problems
The use of marijuana as a medical treatment is still new ground for the United States, and people are still wary of its popularity, since it is still considered to be a Schedule I type drug. The legalization of marijuana has caused an overall increase in marijuana use, and doctors would like to conduct more research on the potential medical uses of cannabis.
At the moment, only two cannabinoid types are approved by the FDA. These treatments are used alongside chemotherapy for cancer patients dealing with nausea or to stimulate appetite. But high quality clinical trials have yielded positive results, and suggest that medical marijuana can help with more than just anorexia and nausea.
Next to using medical cannabis for cancer patients, the next most common use for medical marijuana is for chronic or neuropathic pain. Out of 12 trials, there were multiple positive results that encouraged the use of medical marijuana for chronic and neuropathic pain. In an article published by the American Academy of Neurology, a list of guidelines for medical marijuana use claimed that the most effective results are found when the cannabis is taken orally, like in a pill form.
But since cannabis is still not completely federally approved, it cannot be distributed through pharmacies, and is not readily available to those who need it. FDA approved medical cannabinoids can be prescribed, but are not available for things like chronic pain. With more research being conducted, more positive results are showing, which could change the current FDA standings on medical cannabis.
Hill KP. Medical Marijuana for Treatment of Chronic Pain and Other Medical and Psychiatric Problems: A Clinical Review. JAMA. 2015;313(24):2474–2483. doi:10.1001/jama.2015.6199
Mental health functioning and severity of cannabis withdrawal among medical cannabis users with chronic pain
At a medical marijuana dispensary in Michigan, a study was conducted on people who use medical marijuana for chronic pain. A majority of the participants in the study use cannabis at least once a week, and claim that they do experience withdrawal symptoms.
In the study, more than seventy-five percent of the participants stated that they would have trouble sleeping, lose their appetite, or become anxious when they were not using medical cannabis. The severity of withdrawal symptoms correlates with how high functioning a person’s brain is, but continuous heavy cannabis use can deter the functions of the brain.
Although, since the participants were also dealing with chronic pain, that could also play a role in the severity of withdrawal symptoms. If a person’s chronic pain is intense, then it makes sense that patients would be taking larger amounts of cannabis. Marijuana withdrawal can lead to functional impairments, but does not have a large physical effect. Chronic pain causes both functional and physical impairments, making it difficult for a person to stop taking their cannabis medication.
Brian E. Perron, Katlyn R. Holt, Emily Yeagley, Mark Ilgen, Mental health functioning and severity of cannabis withdrawal among medical cannabis users with chronic pain, Available online 6 November 2018. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2018.09.029. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0376871618307786
Topic for Definition Argument: “Harm Reduction”
Topic for Causal Argument: Cessation of drug use causes withdrawal.
Topic for Rebuttal Argument: The use of drugs as treatment against another drug will just make that person addicted to a different drug.
Current State of Research Paper
At the moment, I can say that I am feeling more level-headed about this paper the more I work on it. Once the professor told me about harm reduction, it made me feel as though I could actually make this paper make sense. But I am still feeling a bit anxious about putting all of my information together. Getting rid of opioids altogether does not seem achievable in the slightest, so I will have to change my hypothesis once again. But overall, the research I am finding makes me confident that at least half of my idea is not completely ridiculous.