Cannabis may be beneficial for addressing the opioid crisis, according to Canadian medical experts.
Canadian medical experts believe that cannabis could play a role in the solution to the opioid epidemic. Opioids are a class of drugs that are commonly prescribed by physicians to relieve pain.
While they act on opioid receptors within the nervous system to send signals to the brain to effectively block pain, opioids also carry a high risk of abuse, addiction, and overdose. Nearly 2,500 Canadians died from opioid-related overdoses in 2016. In the United States, an average of 78 people die from an opioid-related overdose every day.
Canada is set to legalize the possession and use of cannabis by adults July 2018. The proposed marijuana bill, which as of now has passed second reading in the House of Commons, would allow adults ages 18 years and over to legally possess up to 30 grams of dried cannabis or its equivalent, and share up to 30 grams of dried marijuana with other adults. Retail stores will also be able to legally sell cannabis to adults.
Dr. Mark Ware, a renowned cannabis and pain relief researcher, believes that a legal framework for cannabis will help to facilitate further research into whether cannabis could be a safer alternative to opioids for pain relief.
The studies that have been done, Ware explained, have found that cannabinoids interact with receptors in the brain in a way that has a “synergy” with how opioids interact with receptors. Pain patients that have been prescribed opioids have been able to reduce their dose and still effectively manage their discomfort when they start taking cannabinoids.
“There appears to be a very profound effect,” Ware told The Canadian Press. “Research suggests there are important interactions between the two systems.”
In the U.S., states with legalized medical marijuana have experienced subsequent reduced rates of hospitalizations and deaths due to opioid overdose. While data is promising, Ware believes clinical studies are needed to determine whether cannabinoids can really help patients that rely on a high-dose of opioids for pain relief to reduce their intake.
“That’s the challenge we have – to take this interesting possibility and explore it,” Ware said.
Respected U.S. pain management physician Bruce Nicholson published an opinion editorial earlier this year arguing in favor of doctors recommending cannabis to their patients for pain management rather than opioids. Research suggests that cannabis is a non-addictive and effective substance for treating chronic pain.
Health Minister Jane Philpott doesn’t immediately see any connection between Canada legalizing marijuana and a solution to the opioid problem, but still supports research investigating the potential benefits and risks of cannabis.
“Clearly Dr. Ware and many others are doing research in this area and we certainly encourage further research to better understand the realities,” Philpott said.
Dr. Perry Kendall, British Columbia chief provincial health officer, told The Canadian Press that he too believes that cannabis may be a safer alternative to opioids for those facing chronic pain.
“If you’ve got a lot of people taking high-dose opioids by prescription for a long period of time, if you start cutting them off, you really need to have off ramp or alternative to offer them,” Kendall said, in an interview. “The pain societies across the country say we don’t have that yet. … Cannabinoids… may offer one alternative.”
Medical Marijuana, Inc.’s major investment company AXIM Biotechnologies, Inc. is currently exploring how cannabinoids in a functional chewing gum form could assist in the treatment of opioid addiction and potentially chronic pain. AXIM recently announced it had filed a patent of invention for its chewing gum composition with controlled release of cannbinoids and opioid agonists and/or antagonists with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. AXIM Biotech CEO George E. Anastassov has said the controlled release cannabinoid gum is designed to address opioid addiction through a method called replacement therapy, in which an opioid is replaced with another less potent and less addictive opioid to gradually curb cravings and withdrawal symptoms. With cannabinoids, the negative effects and cravings can be further reduced.
Twenty-nine U.S. states have passed laws allowing medical marijuana when recommended by a licensed physician. Nearly all include chronic pain as a condition that qualifies for medicinal cannabis.
You can learn more about what research has so far discovered about cannabinoids and pain management by visiting our education page. Keep up with the growing global cannabis market and discover more about AXIM® Biotechnologies on our news feed.