The American opioid epidemic rages on. More than 2 million Americans are reportedly dependent on opioid drugs currently. In 2016 alone, some 42,000 people died of an opioid overdose. That’s more than 100 opioid-related deaths every single day.
Understandably, opioid addicts are terrified, and many are beginning to turn to unconventional treatments to overcome their addiction. As the number of accepted medical uses for marijuana has steadily grown over the past decade, many wonder if cannabis can be an effective treatment for opioid addiction.
Unfortunately, there is no evidence showing that marijuana can help people suffering from opioid withdrawals. However, marijuana use may be of some benefit during other stages of opioid addiction treatment.
Marijuana for Opioid Withdrawal: Does It Work?
It would be nice if simply smoking weed or eating marijuana food for opiate withdrawal were an effective treatment, but to put it bluntly, it’s not. There is very little that can be done to make the symptoms of opioid detox less miserable.
Once you’ve decided to get clean, you’ll inevitably have to suffer through opioid withdrawal symptoms such as:
- Muscle and joint pain
- Cold flashes
- Muscle spasms
- Nausea and vomiting
Now, there is some anecdotal evidence that marijuana may be able to partially relieve some of these symptoms, like nausea and insomnia, for example. But as a general rule, marijuana is not an effective replacement for opioids during the early stages of recovery.
Marijuana as a Replacement Painkiller
Many people who become addicted to opioid drugs began using them for legitimate reasons. There are countless stories of doctors prescribing painkillers to patients who, over time, become more and more dependent on the opioid medications.
And when their prescription runs out, many of these patients turn to street opioids to satisfy their drug dependence, which can eventually lead to heroin addiction and even death.
While marijuana may not treat the physical dependence on opioids, it can bring relief to the underlying chronic pain issues that led to the use of opioids in the first place.
Studies on Marijuana to Treat Chronic Pain
Harvard researchers recently performed a systematic review of 28 studies examining the effectiveness of cannabinoids to treat numerous chronic pain conditions. The Harvard team found that of six general chronic pain studies, all demonstrated that marijuana use resulted in a significant improvement in pain symptoms. In addition, five out of five studies showed that marijuana helped to alleviate neuropathic pain.
Two studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association also seem to indicate that states that legalized medical marijuana observed a significant reduction in the number of opioid prescriptions written by doctors. While these studies only show observational correlations, the research teams were confident that the drop in opioid prescriptions is related to the availability of legal marijuana, as there was no change in the number of non-opioid prescriptions during the study.
It’s hard to say whether marijuana can be an effective chronic pain treatment in all cases, but the research appears to show that many may be able to find relief by replacing their opioid use with marijuana.
Marijuana as a Recreational Opioid Replacement
Not everyone uses opioid drugs for legitimate medical reasons. Those who use prescription painkillers or heroin recreationally may be able to replace opioids with marijuana. People abuse opioids for a number of nonmedical reasons, such as to relieve social anxiety or just unwind after a stressful day. Marijuana can provide similar effects to opioids in this regard, and is much safer in both the short and long term.
Whereas opioids have a tremendously high potential for addiction, marijuana does not. People can use it for years with little risk of developing a physical dependence. And while opioid overdoses claim tens of thousands of lives every year, it’s nearly impossible to have a fatal overdose of marijuana.
Now, we’re not recommending that people take up marijuana use just to have a good time, but if the choice is between marijuana and opioids, it’s safe to say that marijuana is going to be the safer option nearly 100 percent of the time.
Beating Opioid Addiction the Smart Way
If you are serious about kicking an opioid habit, there is no better way to do it than through a medical opioid detox program. For someone going through the process of quitting opioids, marijuana will not do much for the unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, but there are other medications that can.
If it’s deemed necessary, a trained physician at a medically assisted opioid detox facility may prescribe any of the following medications to treat opioid withdrawal symptoms:
Help with Finding an Opioid Detox Program
In the end, the decision comes down to each individual whether they will choose to use marijuana as a replacement of the symptoms or reasons they started taking opioid drugs. One thing that is certain, however, is that if someone is already addicted to opioids, marijuana is not going to magically get rid of their withdrawal symptoms. But don’t lose hope!
No matter how hopeless the situation may seem, with professional help and personal determination, anyone can start down the path toward a life free from opioid addiction.