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With an upcoming surgery in the back of my mind, I continue to think about what my doctor will prescribe for impending post-surgery pain. Since many legal hurdles for cannabis in DC, and especially in the surrounding areas, still exist, I must prepare myself for taking prescription pain-killers. This is unfortunate, because both anecdotal evidence and statistics prove that pain killers are a much riskier option to cannabis.
According to the CDC, 28,000 people died in 2014 due to opioid overdoes. Yet doctors continue to prescribe these medications for treatment. One could write an entire book about this topic alone, but the intention here is to focus on two key areas where responsible cannabis policy could greatly improve the lives of U.S. citizens who need it most.
I would be remiss if I did not bring up cannabis as a treatment for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD). 31 percent of veterans from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are diagnosed with PTSD, according to the National Institute for Health (NIH). Even back in 2012, there were medical findings that showed veterans who were prescribed opioids for non-cancer pain associated with their PTSD symptoms experienced adverse clinical outcomes with these treatments.
While some organizations, including the U.S. House of Representatives, have gotten the message that cannabis can be a good alternative to opioid pain medications for veterans. There need to be better laws in place that make cannabis a standard tool in PTSD treatment. Why send people to war and limit their options for care once they return home?
Cancer treatment is another place where doctors are quick to prescribe opioid pain medication, and federal standardized laws still do not exist for cannabis as treatment. Of course, much more progress has been made on this avenue across the U.S. at the state level, but to make cannabis the norm for cancer treatment, there is much more progress to be made. It's important that people who support legalization, especially in an election year, make their voices heard either through financial or other support for the organizations that fight for responsible marijuana policies.
Doctors will continue to prescribe opioid pain medications for as long as the law allows them. This is not to say that such treatments do not have their place. On the contrary, such treatments exist because some people find relief in their effects. However, when doctors have to consider using marijuana both as an alternative to, and a treatment for opioid addiction, one is clearly the bettery choice. When thinking about which one comes with less adverse effects, such as addiction and dependence, for all-encompassing treatment of patients across the board, cannabis is the clear choice.
Since the year 2000 the number of opioid overdoses has increased by 200%, according to information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, bringing the totals for the year 2014 to 47,055. It’s not just heroin attributing to this large number of overdoses, but prescription drugs as well are a massive problem. Even more so because they are legal and tend to be over-prescribed. Another problem is that people are using the prescription drugs as a “fix” for heroin or vice versa since heroin tends to be cheaper.
Some of America’s top lawmakers, including Senator Elizabeth Warren, have urged the agency to take a look at medical cannabis as an alternative painkiller to opioids.
An increasing amount of research is showing that legalizing cannabis could help end the horrible opioid issue this country is having. A 2015 working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research is showing states with medical marijuana dispensaries have a significant drop in opioid addictions as well as overdoses. Showing that medical marijuana offers a safer more effective alternative to prescription drugs.
Another 2015 study found that 80% of medical marijuana users substituted cannabis for painkillers, and 52% said they drank less alcohol when using medical cannabis. Those are some extremely positive results! Now if only it could get the federal funding it needs so the people can get the help they need.
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