Perhaps one of the more compelling arguments for legalizing medical cannabis is the fact that evidence heavily suggests that it is able to provide most of the benefits of widely-used opioids without the potentially lethal side effects that come from misuse.
Opioids are currently the most-abused type of prescription drug in the United States. In 2017, 47,000 Americans died as the result of opioid abuse, from drugs sourced from both legal and illegal sources. However, it’s difficult for many American medical professionals to avoid prescribing opioids due to the effectiveness of these drugs at managing pain.
This is exacerbated by the fact that pharmaceutical companies have been found complicit in lobbying for the wider use of these classes of drugs, which has led to unnecessary prescriptions and an increased potential for abuse. A number of cities have even sued the pharmaceutical industry for causing the crisis.
However, we already have a powerful equivalent to opioids for pain management that carries fewer side effects and reduced potential for abuse in medical cannabis – specifically cannabidiol, better known as CBD oil.
While medical cannabis, in general, has been found to have uses for the type of pain management normally treated by opioids, adoption has been slow thanks to fears and misconceptions about the psychoactive effects of cannabis, specifically its active ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol, also known as THC.
In the course of decades of medical cannabis research, it has been found that CBD has most of the benefits of THC, without the strong psychoactive effects that normally come with it. The potential for abuse is also much reduced from regular cannabis with THC, which in itself is already lower than the abusive potential of most opioids used for pain treatment.
So why hasn’t CBD oil been more widely adopted? Ultimately it has to do with the incredibly complicated nature of cannabis. Cannabis plants contain more than 500 chemical compounds. Isolating these compounds can be difficult and expensive, and it’s hard to recreate findings of previous studies create controls for studies involving cannabis due to the sheer complexity of the plant. Different strains of cannabis and varying levels of different chemicals in each strain can also affect different people in different ways.
There are also new discoveries made about cannabis that may dissuade its more widespread use. For instance, it was found that even relatively small doses can irreversibly alter the brains of teens, which may mean that in the near future, doctors may not prescribe cannabis for teens and young adults.
Even with these setbacks, however, it’s safe to say that CBD oil will likely have a role to play in helping solve the opioid crisis, though not by itself. The crisis is multifaceted, with economic and social angles to consider, which make it unlikely that any single solution will be workable.
Instead what is more likely to work might be a multi-pronged solution that involved weaning opioid abuse victims off drugs with different types of therapy as well as preventing the potential for abuse by substituting opioids with CBD when possible for pain management.