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Marijuana may be able to curb opioid dependence for some people with chronic pain, reports new study


(NaturalNews) Opioids are being over prescribed in America, resulting in 47,000 deaths a year, mostly from pain prescription overdoses. The National Institute of Drug Abuse reports that the US makes up 5 percent of the world's population but devours 75 percent of all prescription drugs. Considering all this, could marijuana help curb the country's opioid epidemic?

Recent research suggests the answer is yes. In a study involving 185 patients from a dispensary in Ann Arbor, Michigan, participants reported experiencing fewer side effects and a 45 percent improvement in their quality of life after using cannabis to help manage their pain. Furthermore, patients using medical marijuana to manage chronic pain reported a 64 percent decrease in their use of widely prescribed pain medications like opioids. The results of the study were published online in The Journal of Pain.

Health authorities are urging doctors to reduce the amount of prescriptions for painkillers like OxyContin and Vicodin. The results of the recent study suggest medical marijuana may be a viable alternative for some people suffering from chronic pain.

"We're in the midst of an opioid epidemic and we need to figure out what to do about it," noted lead author of the study and doctoral student in the School of Public Health's Department of Environmental Health Sciences Kevin Boehnke, in a press release. "I'm hoping our research continues a conversation of cannabis as a potential alternative for opioids," he added.

The herb that curbs pain killer addiction

The team set out to determines if cannabis was an effective alternative for people with severe centralized chronic pain who did not always respond well to opioids. Surveys were conducted between November 2013 and February 2015.

"We hypothesized that cannabis might be particularly effective for the type of pain seen in conditions such as fibromyalgia, since there are many studies suggesting that synthetic cannabinoids work in these conditions," said study senior author Dr. Daniel Clauw, a Professor of Anesthesiology, Medicine and Psychiatry at the University of Michigan. "We did not see this because the patients in this study rated cannabis to be equally effective for those with different pain severity," he continued.

The researchers found that patients with less severe chronic pain reported a decrease in their use of painkillers and an increase in their quality of life.

"We would caution against rushing to change current clinical practice towards cannabis, but note that this study suggests that cannabis is an effective pain medication and agent to prevent opioid overuse," Boehnke added.

A possible alternative to opioids

The researchers said there was one limitation to the study, however. The people in the survey already believed in the medicinal benefits of marijuana. The participants were surveyed after they had been using cannabis, which may have skewed their recollections. The researchers intend to conduct additional research that examines the medicinal impact marijuana has on patients who have and have not used marijuana for pain management.

Nevertheless, in states where medical marijuana is legal, population studies have shown a reduction in opioid use. The recent study is one of the first research projects to investigate individual patterns of use. A separate study released earlier this month from Israel followed people for six months and found a 44 percent decrease in their opioid use, according to the press release.

Currently, 23 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medicinal marijuana, and four states have legalized recreational marijuana.

Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidelines for prescribing opioids for chronic pain, underlining that sales of opioids have quadrupled since 1999.

If you're interested in learning about more natural ways to help manage pain, bolster your health or improve your quality of life, make sure to sign up for the Natural Medicine, Healing & Wellness Summit!

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