Replacing Prescription Drugs with Cannabis

One of the recurring themes in Cornerstone Blog articles is the idea that cannabis can achieve some of the results of pharmaceutical drugs with less risk to health and financial cost. Opioids, for instance, are often seen as the last line of defense in treating pain, since they represent the strongest chemical family of pain-killers known to medicine. However, opioids are also incredibly addictive. Even legally prescribed opioids, in fact, often lead to long-term drug addiction. This development occurs so often in fact, that doctors are required a special license (in addition to their medical license) to administer them. As we’ve explored in numerous articles, cannabis and specifically CBD can reduce perception of pain, especially if it is caused by swelling and inflammation. It would be foolish to think that cannabis could entirely replace all painkillers, of course, and certainly there are cases where short-term effect outweighs long-term risk of addiction, as in the case of terminally ill patients. However, the idea being put forth by the scientific and medical community is that if a significant portion of the pain is reduced, the corresponding amount of necessary opioid could also be significantly reduced. The same line of reasoning could be used for a variety of other treatment indications beyond pain, such as anxiety and depression, for instance. As readers know, anti-depressants can occasionally have unintended side-effects and increase suicidal ideation. Some anti-depressants can also reduce energy that is vital to personality expression, which is why many patients do not comply…

Opioid Withdrawal Treatment: Finding New Roads

Opioids/opiates have provided significant and sometimes life-saving relief to countless patients. They remain some of the strongest painkillers available and can be especially helpful in rendering comfort in otherwise extremely painful terminal illnesses. Opioids work by activating opioid receptors located in the brain, which are densely located in emotion-controlling areas that process pain. Unfortunately, prolonged or extreme use of opioids can lead to dependence, or the body adjusting by limiting natural opioid production and therefore resulting in the body physiologically needing increasing amounts of external opioids to function properly. However, aside from practical issues, high doses of opioids can lead to respiratory failure, death, and other serious health consequences, which means that for all but terminally ill users, opioid withdrawal will eventually occur. Withdrawal is not only unpleasant physically and psychologically (depression, lack of appetite, diarrhea), but potentially life-threatening. In fact, withdrawal is so severe that it can sometimes prevent patients from ending opiate use, causing a downward spiral. As a result, modern doctors are cautious to prescribe opioids and usually seek to wean patients off opioids through slowly decreasing prescriptions. Perhaps more concerning though, aside from medical patients, roughly 4.3 million people in the US alone are currently non-medical users of narcotic pain relievers. Drugs like heroin, hydrocodone, oxycodone, etc. are all opiate-based drugs that are frequently abused for the recreational high. Meanwhile, even drugs intended to wean opiate use, such as buprenorphine, are commonly sold and traded. To date, only compounds that directly activate opioid receptors have been…

Using Cannabis to Reduce Opioid Use for Chronic Pain

The last time we spoke of opioids and cannabis, it was in reference to whether cannabis could interfere with opioid withdrawal recovery (spoiler alert: not observed). However, equally worth considering is the opposite end of the spectrum of opioid users: legitimate use of prescribed opioids to treat chronic pain. Noting the tendency for opioids to be abused and to elicit addiction in patients, doctors must be very careful about prescribing opioids and must gauge a variety of factors such as age and tolerance to pain. However in almost all cases, patients receiving opioids have tried other less potent painkillers, from over the counter to prescribed medications, and have not had success with these medicines. Unfortunately, while opioids represent one of the strongest painkillers known at this time, they have not been shown to be effective in managing chronic pain. Furthermore, our current medical understanding of pain is that it cannot simply be reduced to one factor or one area of the brain. As a result it is unlikely that one substance will contain the entire mechanism of action for eliminating pain. This dovetails nicely into cannabis use because as we’ve discussed on the blog previously, cannabis is capable of activating pain attenuation circuits through the endocannabinoid system. Specifically, cannabis can activate some of the same opioid pathways without actually supplying extraneous opioids to the body. Those that read the blog know that a pet peeve of Cornerstone is seeing small studies. We like to see large studies upwards of a…

Cannabis and Opioid-Addiction. Part I

The cultural perception of cannabis as a recreational narcotic is one reason many patients are not open to the option of cannabis treatment. As more states begin to offer medicinal cannabis, this cultural perception has largely reversed and enabled genuine research around the benefits of cannabis use.  However, many doctors are still asking cannabis consumers who have found medical benefits, to abstain from cannabis.  Underpinning this type of recommendation is the way marijuana use is classified in addiction rehabilitation centers; many make mandatory rules for those seeking treatment in their facilities to cease all cannabis consumption. These physicians base the decision on the reasoning that even if research has confirmed that cannabis use is safe and effective for controlling some health conditions, cannabis might still interfere with recovery from other addictions or otherwise play a harmful role. As it turns out, new research is showing that the reverse is possible. Many addicts are using cannabis to attenuate the effects of withdrawal and help recovery. However, for the focus of this article, we’ll first focus on a Rhode Island study that asked the question, “Does concurrent marijuana use present additional treatment needs or affect outcomes?” In this study, doctors at an opioid addiction rehabilitation clinic collected frequent drug tests during their rehabilitation program to track both cannabis use and the success of 107 patients in abstaining from opioid use.  They were then able to compare the groups of cannabis users and non-users to analyze whether one group had greater success in…