Last updated: March 27, 2023
The opioid crisis was raging even back in 2018. There were 46,802 reported deaths related to opioid overdose that year. The statistic had more than doubled since 2010. Even though the medical community was locking down on the number of opioid prescriptions written, the damage was already done. So many lives were already in ruins because opiates and opioids carry a high risk of addiction. The intense withdrawal symptoms caused many to have an opiate relapse. Physicians and others began to search for ways to help those who suffered from this addiction.
Realizing the magnitude of the situation, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) published an article in September 2018 reporting that marijuana may be useful as a possible replacement therapy treatment for addicts. The National Academies of Science and Medicine took a hard look at using the drug to help patients suffering withdrawal symptoms from opioid drugs. They used data taken from numerous pre-clinical studies showing that cannabis and cannabinoids decrease the intensity of withdrawal symptoms. If that proved true, using marijuana as a treatment could keep millions from failing their attempts to quit using and suffering an opiate relapse.
Were the studies correct though?
The article stated in closing, “Many clinicians remain skeptical of cannabis as a viable treatment option, either due to the stigma surrounding cannabis use or the belief that there is not enough clinical evidence for them to feel confident providing patients with cannabis recommendations.” It then went on to explain that only 15% of students who recently graduated from medical school had received any education at all about using cannabis as an Opiate Use Disorder (OUD) treatment.
A short four years later, it seems their initial conclusion stating “there is not enough clinical evidence for them to feel confident providing patients with cannabis recommendations” spoke volumes.
That’s because a study conducted by researchers at Emory University and published in Emerging Trends in Drugs, Addictions and Health earlier this year backed up the NIH report’s original closing viewpoint.
Adolescents who used pot to self-medicate
Twenty-six adolescents were interviewed for the Emory study who ranged in age from 14 to 22 suffering from OUD and had tried smoking pot as a “harm-reduction substitute for using opiates.” The interview touched on several factors, including:
- History of drug use in participating adolescents before developing OUD
- Length of time between their developing OUD and achieving total sobriety
- Length of time between sobriety and their first opiate relapse after self-prescribing smoking marijuana to “help”
- Effects of smoking marijuana on the cravings and urges to use opioids
- Amount of time between relapse on marijuana and return to opiate use
The adolescents admitted that smoking marijuana actually enhanced cravings and urges to use opiates, thereby, promoting relapse. All twenty-six adolescents returned to opiate use within one day and six weeks after using marijuana as a crutch.
The answers they gave in regard to using marijuana to keep from returning to opiates were disturbing. Typical comments made by the young people that were recorded included:
Is substituting one drug for another ever a good idea?
If that question was put to a family member who had experienced the effects that drug addiction had on their entire family unit would probably cause them to answer with an emphatic, “No!” Once the brain forms an addiction, it deems the chemical reaction induced by the drug as “normal.” It’s constantly looking for the reaction and sends out distress signals to alert the body that something isn’t right. For many suffering from opioid addiction, the only answer seems to be to use again.
Opiates and opioids are narcotics. The brain forms a physical dependence on these and other types of drugs. The length of time that passes before addiction occurs varies from person to person. When the drugs are no longer available, the recovery process begins with the body withdrawing from acknowledging the drug as being a “normal” part of daily life.
Symptoms of withdrawal
Early symptoms of opiate withdrawal include:
- Increased tearing
- Muscle aches
- Runny nose
Symptoms intensify the longer the drugs are withheld. They aren’t life-threatening but grow more intense as time passes. They include:
- Abdominal cramping
- Dilated pupils
Offering those suffering addiction relief in the form of other drugs just doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense to many people. They feel that trading one drug for another will ultimately just lead to more of the same.
Judging from the above study, they may be right.
It is possible to beat drug addiction. It’s not an easy path to walk—especially if you’re living through the withdrawal experience. Even afterward, though, the urge to use again can come out of nowhere it seems. Making life changes will help you maintain your sobriety.
Stay away from the people that encouraged you to live that lifestyle in any way. Instead, surround yourself with people who truly care about your well-being. In other words, people who love you. The positivity rubs off. You can live a drug-free life—by taking it one day at a time.