Marijuana Vs. Prescription Drugs: What You Need To Know

Updated August 30, 2017

Even though medical marijuana law is still a gray area, a growing number of patients in the US are turning to marijuana as an alternative to prescription pain killers. The CDC has officially declared prescription drug abuse in the US to be an epidemic, with overdose resulting in more than 44 deaths each day. That’s 17,000 deaths per year—and the number continues to rise. As of 2010, an estimated 52 million Americans over the age of 12 years old use prescription drugs for non-medical purposes. Deaths caused by prescription drug overdose outnumber deaths caused by heroin and cocaine combined. People all over the country are beginning to wonder if marijuana is a safer option.

To date, we still have no recorded deaths related to marijuana overdose—ever. In fact, marijuana legalization may be responsible for a 25% decrease in opiate-related deaths in the 23 states that have passed medical cannabis laws so far. That’s a 25% reduction in deaths caused by pain pills, heroin, and morphine. Prescription painkillers also carry a number of adverse side effects which can cause long-term health problems in some patients. The most common side effect of opioid painkillers is chronic constipation, which has been shown to increase the risk of colon cancer and benign neoplasm (a type of slow-growing tumor). Another worrying side effect that is associated with the use of opioid painkillers, a category that includes common drugs such as morphine, oxycodone, and methadone, is opioid induced hyperalgesia. This is a condition where the patient experiences phantom pain after prolonged use of opioid painkillers. Clearly, experiencing pain where no physical reason exists creates a prime climate for addiction to these drugs. A study performed in 2008 lists common symptoms associated with prescription pain killers:

“Common side effects of opioid administration include sedation, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, constipation, physical dependence, tolerance, and respiratory depression. Physical dependence and addiction are clinical concerns that may prevent proper prescribing and in turn inadequate pain management. Less common side effects may include delayed gastric emptying, hyperalgesia, immunologic and hormonal dysfunction, muscle rigidity, and myoclonus.”

Marijuana has proven a wonderful treatment option for a variety of conditions of both a physical and psychological nature. The reason that the medical properties of this magical plant are so wide ranging is that cannabis is made up of various cannabinoids, each of which can be used to treat different conditions or symptoms. The two most medically relevant cannabinoids are THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). As we move toward decriminalizing or, in some cases, fully legalizing the use of marijuana, users can further tailor medical cannabis to suit their needs by selecting strains that are appropriate for treating their condition at medical marijuana dispensaries or even to grow at home. The list of conditions that medical cannabis can be helpful in treating includes:

  • Can stop or slow progression in growth of cancerous tumors
  • Relieves chronic pain
  • Can encourage appetite in cancer and HIV patients, as well as sufferers of eating disorders
  • Can relieve pressure in the eyes caused by glaucoma
  • Can reduce cell damage caused by chemotherapy
  • Can help relieve nausea
  • Helps control muscle spasms caused by multiple sclerosis
  • Reduces the severity and frequency of seizures in epileptics and patient suffering from other seizure disorders
  • Provides relief from the symptoms of Crohn’s disease and IBS
  • Provides relief from the debilitating tremors associated with Parkinson’s
  • Relieves the symptoms of PTSD
  • Provides relief from general anxiety disorders
  • Provides relief from sleep disorders
  • Can slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s

 

This is just a sampling of the conditions that can be treated with the medical marvel that is marijuana. You may notice that many of these ailments are auto-immune disorders. Even the staunchest of medical marijuana opponents must surely agree that a herbal medication that shows some promise in relieving the symptoms of or slowing the progression of these illnesses demands further research and certainly, the sufferers of these conditions must not be deprived of this medication.

The myth that prescription drugs are safer than marijuana is completely false. Both marijuana and prescription painkillers have potential psychoactive side effects, but the long-term effects of marijuana use appear to be far safer and not at all life-threatening. One study indicates that patients addicted to opiates could experience decreased brain function. Some forms of marijuana, such as cannabidiol (CBD), appear to have no effect on cognitive function at all. Many adversaries of medical marijuana like to portray users as “stoners” who are unable to function properly in day to day life. However, many prescription medications have serious side effects including drowsiness, irritability, and inability to focus. Most of these types of medications will indeed warn against operating a motorized vehicle after using the medication. Obviously, people treating symptoms of illness with prescription medication are not able to function completely normally either. For patients suffering from chronic pain, cannabis could offer relief without the negative symptoms of long-term opiate use and, when using a high CBD strain of medical cannabis, without the lethargy and moodiness associated with many prescription medications.

Prescription opiates are derived from the same source as other drugs, such as heroin and morphine. They are highly addictive and frequently abused by teens—54.2% of pain pills in the US are obtained free from a friend or relative. Some experts link the rise in heroin use to opioid-abuse teens and young adults become more likely to use heroin or even more frighteningly drugs like fentanyl when pills are unavailable. Many politicians who claim that marijuana is a gateway drug, need to consider the reality that opioid painkillers are worse and far more dangerous. A jump from smoking marijuana to using heroine seems a stretch. Perhaps more likely is a jump from a drug derived from the same ingredients as heroine to heroine. US citizens make up 5% of the world’s population and consume 75% of the world’s prescription drugs.

A Canadian study tested marijuana on 215 patients with chronic pain. The participants used marijuana medically for one year under careful supervision. The study found that cannabis patients “had no greater risk than non-users (control group) to experience serious adverse events.” The number of people addicted to painkillers is increasing every year and doctors are running out of treatment options. Marijuana could provide a valuable tool for doctors to treat both addiction and pain; as yet another use for medical marijuana is to ease intense withdrawal symptoms from hard drugs.

In recent years, an epidemic of anxiety-related disorders has come to the forefront of discussion. The sufferers range from children to adults, but anxiety disorders seem to run rampant in the young adult and teenage populations.In fact, the National Institute of mental health estimates that around 18 percent of the population of the United States—that’s around 40 million people—suffer from some type of anxiety disorder. This of course only includes those who have recognized a problem and are seeking help.

Symptoms include panic attacks, feelings of general unease and sleep problems. The drugs used to treat these types of disorders are from the benzodiazepines family. Although effective, drugs from this family can cause focus problems and lethargy in the short term and in the long term can, in fact, worsen psychiatric symptoms. Benzodiazepines may also alter behavior and users rapidly develop a tolerance, meaning the dose needed to produce the same effect gets higher and higher. Users can display aggression, violence and a loss of inhibition when using medications from this drug family. Additionally, patients may experience severe withdrawal symptoms, even in users who have not been taking the medicine for long. This can result in serious addiction issues, starting at a very young age and does not provide an adequate long-term solution for those who suffer from anxiety disorders.

Medical marijuana, on the other hand, can treat both symptoms of anxiety and sleep disorders. High CBD strains are most effective with anxiety, so patients will not experience the psychoactive effects often associated with cannabis. It also poses no risk of physical addiction.

Many people worry about damaging their lungs while consuming marijuana. However, especially with the rise dispensaries, there are many ways that you can consume cannabis without smoking. You can use a vaporizer, which involves heating marijuana oil to the point where it turns into vapor, but not smoke. You can also create edibles, either by cooking directly with the plant or by creating butter or oil that can easily be incorporated into any recipe. Dispensaries in your state or province may even sell baked goods or candies infused with marijuana. There also exists an option for creating marijuana tea. You can also create high THC oils or tinctures. To consume these usually simply involves placing a few drops under the tongue (some oils may also be applied topically). As you can see, there are many consumption methods that don’t involve damaging your lungs when it comes to medical cannabis.

If you live with chronic pain, whether it be physical or emotional, it’s important to consider your treatment options carefully. Doctors frequently over prescribe pain pills, which could result in physical dependence and chronic, life-threatening side effects. While many doctors may be quick to dismiss a request for a medical marijuana prescription, you can often get one on site at a medical marijuana dispensary or be assessed at a medical marijuana evaluation center. If marijuana is an option for you, please give it some consideration. It is less dangerous than opiates and could be equally effective at relieving pain. It is also less expensive and addiction to marijuana is less common than addiction to opiates and current research does not show a need to increase the dosage of cannabis due to tolerance. Pain medication should improve your quality of life, not threaten it. Everyone deserves to make an educated decision about drug use and the research clearly shows that marijuana is a safer option.

Jason Duke
 

As a disabled veteran I have been through years of therapy and treatment and I have seen the toll prescription pain medications can take on you and your family. Now years later and an advocate for Medical Marijuana I'm the founder of MedicalMarijuanaHelp.com a website dedicated to providing accurate information on Medical Marijuana uses, the laws, and the strains. I'm a firm believer that marijuana can help millions of people and deserves its proper place in mainstream medicine.

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