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Death Score: Opioids 16235. Cannabis 0.

byPerry Solomon, MDDecember 3, 20154 minutes

Living with chronic pain and trying to treat it can be difficult and frustrating. Unfortunately, many healthcare professionals ignore or are unaware of the benefits of medical marijuana for pain management, choosing to prescribe opioid-type drugs to mask symptoms.

Marijuana has been used to effectively battle chronic pain for centuries. But despite the success patients have achieved through the use of medical cannabis, its usage still lags far behind opioids. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 10% of prescribing medical professionals account for 50% of opioid prescriptions, illustrating a pattern of over-usage in chronic pain situations. While surveys show that 76% of doctors approve of medical marijuana, statistics indicate that only 1.1 million patients have current prescriptions, a number that falls far short of opioid usage. However, 92% of users say medical cannabis absolutely works to treat their conditions.

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Medical Marijuana Could Save Lives

The Washington Post reports that changing from a regimen of addiction-inducing opioids to non-addictive medical cannabis could literally save lives. Everyone agrees with their claim of saved lives, considering the tens of millions of patients currently addicted to opioids and a frightening CDC-compiled statistic that more than 1,000 people a day are treated in emergency rooms for opioid misuse.

To put this into perspective, 43,982 people died of drug overdoses in 2013, and more than 50% of those deaths were from prescription drugs. Of the prescription drug overdoses, more than 70% were due to opioid-based medications, totaling 16,235 people.

That’s an astronomical number of lost lives stemming from doctors prescribing opioid pain medication. During the same year, exactly zero people died from marijuana use. There could truly be no deeper disparity than losing tens of thousands of lives per year to opioids, which are addictive and may or may not work, versus medical cannabis usage that doesn’t lead to addiction and has a far higher number of patients reporting positive results.

Cannabis Helps With Chronic Pain

In addition to treatment for non-specific chronic pain, medical cannabis is also a successful treatment option for painful disorders like arthritis. Where pharmaceutical painkillers may fall short and opioids over-treat and overwhelm, medical marijuana with high concentrations of cannabinoids can lead to decreased inflammation and increased pain relief. While other pain medications simply mask pain or decrease pain sensitivity for shorter periods of time, medical marijuana can actually get to the root of the problem and provide longer-lasting relief with fewer side effects or long-term implications.

Medical marijuana can improve the quality of life for chronic pain patients; it can also save lives. Meanwhile, opioids don't treat chronic pain as effectively and claim more lives per year than suicide, car accident fatalities and gun-related deaths combined. A National Bureau of Economic Research study shows that increased medical marijuana use is directly proportional to decreased opioid abuse. The positives of saved lives and reduced levels of addiction could not possibly be overstated, and those positives tie back to responsible medical cannabis usage.

An Argument for Medicinal Marijuana Legalization

A Washington Post article shows a direct correlation between states that have legalized medical marijuana dispensaries and the subsequent reduction of opioid-linked deaths.

Add to that a study published in the Journal of American Medical Association Internal Medicine that found "states with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8 percent lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate" than states that hadn't yet legalized medical marijuana.

Needless to say, the argument is very strong to push for cannabis legalization across the rest of the U.S. Millions of patients suffering from a variety of disorders could find much-needed relief with medical cannabis. In addition, the lives of countless chronic pain patients could be preserved and bettered through medical cannabis instead of dangerously addictive opioid drugs.

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If you’re new to cannabis and want to learn more, take a look at our Cannabis 101 post. HelloMD can help you get your medical marijuana recommendation; it's easy, private and 100% online.

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