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Can Medical Cannabis Be Used For Getting America Through The Opioid Crisis?

Posted by Phil Samuelson on

The dangerous consequences of opioid addiction and misuse is sweeping across America, not just in the United States, but in Canada as well. We’ve all heard about the so-called “opioid epidemic,” and the dire situation it poses. Now more than ever, Americans need an effective replacement for dangerous opioid drugs that are killing our citizens at an unprecedented rate. Can medical cannabis be used for getting America through the opioid crisis?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Millions of Americans suffer from pain and are often prescribed opioids to treat their conditions. However, the dangers of prescription misuse, opioid
use disorder, and overdose have been a growing problem throughout the United States. Since the 1990s, when the number of opioids prescribed to patients began to grow, the number of overdoses and deaths from prescription opioids has also increased. Even as the number of opioids prescribed and sold for pain has increased, the amount of pain that Americans report has not similarly changed. From 1999 to 2016, more than 200,000 people died in the United States from overdoses related to prescription opioids. Overdose deaths involving prescription opioids were five times higher in 2016 than in 1999.

Understanding Medical Marijuana

One of the most common uses of medical marijuana is for pain relief, a condition that traditionally relies on opioid drugs. Cannabis provides solutions for the unacceptable number of deaths that occur in our country. Many cannabis users and an increasing number of researchers and physicians believe that it serves as a valuable tool for pain management. The timing of this revelation is fortuitous, because as the opioid epidemic continues to take lives at an increasing rate, the legal use of marijuana is sweeping the nation, with 32 states now allowing medical marijuana and 10 states and the District of Columbia allowing its use for recreational purposes.


Medical marijuana patients nationwide swear that they benefit from the pain relief marijuana provides. Unlike opiates, humans cannot die from a cannabis overdose. It is physiologically impossible. Even the
staunchest cannabis naysayer must concede this fact when presented with the science. The human body actually produces its own endogenous cannabinoids, which is quite amazing when you consider that these compounds are otherwise unique to the cannabis plant. Whether the human body makes them itself or ingests them when consuming cannabis, cannabinoids fit precisely into unique receptors found throughout the human body. These receptors can affect a broad range of human faculties and conditions, including memory, emotion, appetite, coordination, and a number of other things—including, it seems apparent, pain.

Those who work in the medical marijuana industry see the healing properties of the plant at work on a daily basis. Whether the medicinal cannabis helps an adult overcome pain associated with a sports injury or aids an infant to minimize epileptic seizures, the fact that cannabis helps them immeasurably validates the career path these industry insiders chose.

Medical marijuana comes from two of the three recognized species of cannabis: Cannabis sativa (aka “sativa”) and Cannabis indica (aka “indica”). The varieties of marijuana sold under various colorful names
(“Space Queen” and “Trainwreck” being just two) are known as “strains.” This word is widely used in the world of cannabis and refers to any plant that was modified from its original form through selective
breeding. (Consider it this way, among dogs and cats, the word “breed” is an apt comparison to cannabis “strains.”) Although there are pure sativa and indica strains still available, the vast majority of commercial
cannabis strains are hybrids between sativa and indica. Relatively few hybrids are evenly balanced, so most strains are either sativa-dominant or indica-dominant, although they often are sold as either pure sativa or indica. Each strain has its own unique proportions of chemical compounds, so their medical applications vary.

How Cannabis Treats Pain

This cured White Widow flower can be ingested in a variety of ways: smoked, vaporized, or consumed in edible form. All will aid in pain relief.

Some cannabis strains are more noteworthy for pain relief than others. The reason for this is the specific compounds—primarily cannabinoids and terpenes—that interact in a variety of complex ways. This synergy
and interaction, known as the “entourage effect” has direct applications for determining which cannabis strains are the best for pain relief and management. As our understanding of the entourage effect increases, the medical uses of marijuana will become clearer.

The two main cannabinoids—and the ones most often studied—are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC causes the psychoactive effect all marijuana consumers know and enjoy. CBD is
not psychoactive but is relaxing and has other health benefits. Both THC and CBD have been identified in numerous published studies to have pain-relieving properties.

Although most strains used for pain are indica or indica-dominant, not all indica strains are created equally, and some sativa strains work well, too. Let’s take a look at some of the best terpenes found in various
cannabis strains that are useful for treating pain. These terpenes are found in a number of plants and are responsible for the various aromas and flavors found in plants—including cannabis. For instance, terpenes
make the unique smells of fresh-cut basil or rosemary so appealing.

  • Linalool. The terpene linalool is found in lilac, and the aroma has a floral, spicy, woody quality to it. Linalool has a number of medical applications and benefits and is known to be an effective
    analgesic that block pain and treats anxiety, depression, and stress. It also is effective as an anticonvulsant and muscle relaxant.
  • Caryophyllene. Possessing peppery, spicy aromas and flavors, caryophyllene is found in a variety of plants, including cinnamon, oregano, hops, cloves, rosemary, and cannabis. As well as being an
    analgesic that provides strong pain relief, caryophyllene has anti-inflammatory, anti-depressant, and anti-anxiety properties.
  • Myrcene. One of the most common terpenes in cannabis, myrcene is known for its earthy, balsamic- and clove-like aromas. The presence of this terpene also is thought to determine whether a cannabis strain exhibits sativa or indica characteristics. Besides cannabis, myrcene is found in mango, lemongrass, and basil.
  • Pinene. The terpene pinene is most often found in sativa strains. Known as an analgesic, pinene also has anti-inflammatory properties, which makes it effective for pain relief and related swelling. It is known to promote alertness and focus, and work as a bronchodilator. Research also indicates it helps fight cancer. Pinene smells like pine needles and rosemary, and is found in conifer trees,
    dill, parsley, and orange peels.

These terpenes, along with the primary cannabinoids THC and CBD, work together to provide effective pain relief. While both THC and CBD can work to fight pain, CBD is thought to be particularly useful. The
interaction between terpenes and cannabinoids requires a great deal of additional research. No doubt our understanding of the complex relationships between various cannabis compounds will only increase with time and provide clearer understanding of the health benefits they can provide, including applications for pain management.

The entourage effect has received a lot of attention in recent years, as cannabis researchers continue to recognize the various synergies between cannabinoids and terpenes and their impact on human
endocannabinoid systems.

Discover the Healing Properties

Various cannabis strains have a number of medical applications for a wide variety of human disorders and maladies. As the science of cannabinoid research continues, the untapped potential for cannabis as medicine continues to become increasingly apparent. Among the hundreds of compounds found in marijuana, the relationship between cannabinoids and terpenes may hold the answer to therapeutic relief
relating to a number of common physical and mental conditions, providing options to conventional pharmaceutical medications.

Since the wide range of cannabis strains vary in their effectiveness for pain relief and management, it pays to research the strain you choose to use for treatment. A handful of the readily available strains that are
useful for pain include ACDC, White Widow, AK-47, Bubba Kush, Jack Herer, and Blackberry Kush.

For those who suffer from chronic or even occasional pain, these strains are worth trying as alternatives to conventional pharmaceutical medicine used for pain—the majority of which are opiates that have inherent dangers. A safer, more effective way to fight pain may be found on the shelves of your local dispensary or adult-use cannabis store. Some research and a conversation with your doctor may shine a light on a safer approach to treating pain. As many people already know, cannabis can replace opioids for pain management and help put an end to our devastating opioid epidemic.

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