Can Medical Marijuana Help Break America’s Opioid Habit?

Surgeon General of the United States Dr. Vivek Murthy speaks on the epidemic of prescription drug addition in Atlanta, Georgia.

Surgeon General of the United States Dr. Vivek Murthy speaks on the epidemic of prescription drug addition in Atlanta, Georgia. Jessica McGowan/Getty Image

Dr. Vivek Murthy, the U.S. surgeon general, recently penned a letter to every single doctor in America, asking for their help in solving what he calls an “urgent health crisis”: the opioid epidemic.

This is the first time in our country’s history that the surgeon general has reached out to doctors in this fashion — so to call this matter “urgent” is probably an understatement. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 165,000 Americans have died from opioid overdoses since 2009.

Why is Dr. Murthy calling on doctors to slow this epidemic, rather than calling for better addiction programs and increased public awareness regarding the dangers of opioid painkillers? Perhaps because the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries are to blame for creating this epidemic.

The Path to Addiction

As Dr. Murthy states in his letter, the path to our current opioid epidemic was one the medical community “paved with good intentions” — but they took a wrong turn along the way.

Undeniably, physicians have a desire to cure their patients and help alleviate their pain. However, according to Dr. Murthy, there is a general lack of knowledge among many medical professionals regarding the risks and side effects associated with narcotic painkillers.

One major reason for this lack of knowledge is the fact that Big Pharma has evolved into a trillion-dollar monstrosity of an industry where profits over principles is par for the course.

Pharmaceutical corporations pour billions of dollars into advertising every single year, often making claims about their medicines that are deceptive and downright dangerous. And further, they pour billions of additional dollars into wining and dining (aka bribing) doctors into recommending certain drugs to their patients and other doctors.

Rather than being in the business of educating physicians and consumers, Big Pharma prefers to convince the public that pills should be the primary treatment option for every ailment — and that these pills are safer than they really are.

This practice spans far beyond opioids, and it has turned America into the land of the medicated. From asthma to attention deficit disorder to autism, the average American’s gut reaction is to think he or she needs prescription drugs.

Our country is indeed in the midst of an urgent health crisis, and we need to find a solution to overcome it fast. Drug overdoses are among the leading causes of death in America, with opioid overdoses claiming the lives of 78 people every day. More than200 million opiate prescriptions are written every year, and many of those drugs wind up being resold on the black market.

Dr. Murthy’s letter has brought unprecedented attention to this ongoing issue, and with skyrocketing drug prices and unacceptable mortality rates, we can no longer afford the outrageous financial and personal costs of over-prescribing these dangerous medications.

Could Medical Marijuana Be the Solution?

Here’s some good news: The American public is waking up, and the medical world is finally being held accountable for their actions. Patients are beginning to question whether they really need the pills they’re being pushed.

Within this growth of education and awareness, people are also realizing medical marijuana (MMJ) is a safe, highly effective alternative to treating many illnesses and alleviating pain. Currently, 25 states allow doctors to prescribe this plant as medicine, and another eight states have marijuana-related legislation on their ballots this year.

As the MMJ train picks up steam, here are three reasons it could significantly help overcome America’s opioid epidemic:

  1. No Side Effects = Fewer Additional Prescriptions

    Nearly every single prescription drug produces side effects, and often, to counteract these symptoms, patients are given additional medications that also come with their own rosters of side effects. Ironically, opiates are known for causing something called hyperalgesia — increased pain sensitivity — in users, which ultimately leads to more pain medication being thrown into the mix.By contrast, MMJ doesn’t produce any crazy adverse reactions; it’s actually prescribed to alleviate several of the common side effects caused by pharmaceuticals — such as insomnia, nausea, and even addiction.MMJ serves as a one-stop shop for consumers, addressing their primary ailments without producing additional issues.
  2. Fewer Addicts = Fewer Refills and Overdoses

    Since 2008, the federal government has spent more than $1 billion looking into the addiction and abuse risks posed by marijuana — but we are yet to hear anything conclusive on this topic. As the debate roars on, some physicians are actually using MMJ to fight addiction and wean their patients off of dangerous pills, citing a more than 75 percent success rate when taking this approach.Every time MMJ is prescribed for pain management, one less person is at risk of falling victim to life-threatening addiction and overdose. In fact, MMJ states are seeing fewer overdoses — and higher college graduation rates — than states that are yet to allow patients to pursue this option.
  3. Less Profit for Big Pharma = Better Healthcare for Everyone

    The cycle of overprescribing equates to an immense profit margin for big pharmaceutical companies, but it doesn’t help patients or the taxpayers who foot the bill for the societal ramifications of opiate addiction.Relying less on over-prescribed drugs means taking away Big Pharma’s incentive to continue pushing harmful medications, thereby improving the quality of healthcare we receive from providers.

Put simply, Americans are overmedicated, and rather than alleviating health problems, it’s causing increasingly more. MMJ holds the potential to help reverse this trend and improve our overall health as a society.

Play your part in overcoming America’s opioid epidemic by voting in favor of pro-marijuana legislation this November!

Faisal Ansari is the co-founder of MMJRecs, a telemedicine platform in the medical marijuana industry. As a former cancer patient who has reaped the medicinal benefits of marijuana, Faisal co-founded MMJRecs to help others connect to doctors with convenience and ease. He’s a University of Miami graduate with a degree in finance. Faisal owns College Hunks Hauling Junk franchises in Orlando and Tampa, Florida. He is trilingual and speaks English, Portuguese, and Spanish.

Can Medical Marijuana Help Break America’s Opioid Habit?