Would you believe us if we told you that 6 out of every 10 drug overdose deaths in the US are related to perfectly legal, prescribed medications? Sadly, it’s true. Opioids, designed to relieve chronic pain, are notorious not only for their pain-relieving properties, but also for causing addiction and subsequent overdose. So, why do 650,000 opioid prescriptions continue to be dispensed in the US every day, and is there an alternative treatment for chronic pain?

Medical MarijuanaThere is one particular drug that is particularly well-known as an effective pain reliever – marijuana. Despite possession of the drug being illegal at federal level, many states have reformed marijuana laws to allow for medicinal and/or recreational use. In others, though, even possession of very small amounts of the drug can result in jail time.

Marijuana’s Medicinal Benefits

Although opioids can be successful in treating pain, they often don’t provide effects that last long enough to really benefit patients with chronic pain. They can also cause various other complications when used in the long term, including sexual dysfunction and depression, not to mention the risk of addiction and overdose.

Medical marijuana, on the other hand, can provide longer lasting pain relieving effects, with less known side effects. One research study found that just three puffs of the drug each day for five days helped chronic nerve pain patients to relieve pain and get better sleep. Other studies found marijuana to be an effective pain reliever for fibromyalgia, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.

In terms of addiction, research has also found that problematic use of medical marijuana in those with chronic pain is significantly less than that among patients who use opioids to treat their chronic pain. With all of these benefits, why isn’t medical marijuana being more widely adopted as a chronic pain management across the US?

Federal Law Is Inhibiting Effective Research

The biggest problem standing in the way of medical marijuana right now is the lack of research into its long-term effects on our health. What’s holding research back is federal law; marijuana is illegal to possess at a federal level, and the regulations and control of the drug are making it incredibly difficult for research groups to access it and conduct valuable studies. It is believed that if the DEA were to downgrade marijuana to a schedule II drug (it currently being a schedule I), that more research could take place.

As it stands, 28 states in the US have legalized medical marijuana, and as more and more states see the benefits of doing so, others are considering its legalization too. The reality is that in states where medical marijuana is legal, the rate of opioid use has dropped, as has the rate of death by overdose related to opioids. If more research could be facilitated, we could see a huge change in the use of opioids across the country whilst ensuring chronic pain sufferers get some much-needed relief from their symptoms.