Marijuana: The Opioid Alternative?

Barbara Morris

The opioid crisis continues with the government issuing more and more restrictive  mandates that result  in making it more difficult and worrisome for people with chronic pain to feel assured they will have timely and adequate access to their pain meds. The screws tighten daily with the government deciding how many prescriptions a physician may write for a given medication such as Vicodin as well as monitoring how many tablets overall a physician may be prescribing per month. (Don’t complain. Big Brother knows what’s best for you.)

Let’s be realistic. Opioid pain medications are not evil. The evil is in the abuse of those medications by those who take them beyond prescribed limits or for recreation and eventually find themselves trapped as they look for more potent opioid drugs that produce a better “high” or whatever effect they are looking for. Deaths from illegal opioid use are tragic. As we mourn those deaths, our permissive, narcissistic culture ignores the reality that people make choices and live or die as a results of those choices. WE are responsible for what WE choose to put in our bodies, even when knowing it may cause harm.

When I was working as a pharmacist, filling prescriptions for opioid pain meds such as Vicodin was an everyday occurrence. I am well aware of potential side effects (such as constipation) but I don’t recall anyone dying from taking  Vicodin when prescribed  by a doctor and taken responsibly.  Not only does it do a fantastic job of relieving most types of pain, it also makes you feel better mentally. What the government considers dependence or addiction is considered relief by elderly people with arthritis or cancer pain.  Vicodin can make life bearable for them.

I keep wondering where all of this is going.  If people are going to be denied or have  limited access to needed opioid pain medications such as Vicodin, there has to be an alternative waiting in the wings and I predict that alternative will be marijuana — a drug with some potentially serious  issues we seem to want to overlook — (Marijuana associated with three-fold risk of death from hypertension) especially by those whose financial interests are being challenged. Since Colorado allowed private companies to market and sell medical marijuana in 2010, the number of adolescents coming to Denver Health seeking treatment for marijuana dependence has doubled.  (As Legal Marijuana Spreads, Worries About Teen Addiction Grow)

This is why I think marijuana is going to be the “drug of choice” for pain as well as other conditions: The government can no longer adequately control growth, distribution and use of marijuana. Voters continue to approve legalization. You name a medical condition and someone is using marijuana in some form to relieve real or imagined  symptoms. It’s just a matter of time before it’s a “free for all”.


I see “the writing on the wall” in these articles I’ve recently read relating to marijuana and pharmacy:  Pharmacy’s Role in Medical Cannabis  Pharmacists take on medical cannabis dispensing role in three states  Medical marijuana: A new business model for pharmacists

And finally, in another article, This University Is Teaching Students About Marijuana we read,

“. . . If the use of marijuana shifts from an illegal substance to a prescribed medicinal agent, pharmacy students and other health care professionals will need education and training to competently address its safe and effective use. …  Pharmacy schools need to evaluate the adequacy of medical marijuana education in their courses and consider revising curriculum accordingly.”

While the government relentlessly tries to control use of prescription opioids, it does nothing to look into deaths caused by dangerous non-opioid medications approved by the FDA. If you want to read something that will curl your hair, read  this article A Drug Causes Hundreds of Deaths and Millions of ADEs (ADEs being Adverse Drug Events). It’s the tip of an iceberg as large as the one that sank the Titanic. But don’t expect the government or any other entity with clout to do anything about it. Drug manufacturers will continue to churn out profitable new “miracle” drugs loaded with potentially horrendous side effects.

Bye-bye reasonable use of prescription opioids. Hello legalized marijuana and problems we haven’t dreamed of yet.

The NEW Put Old on Hold

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