It comes as no surprise anymore that so many of my patients have had an uncle, a grandparent, or even parent who has had, or has, cancer. In our world today the spread of cancer is rampant and the ways in which we are trying to manage all the pain associated with the deadly disease are, unfortunately, falling short. I’m also no longer surprised that people aren’t interested in taking morphine on a daily basis – its effects are disorienting and frightening. Nor am I surprised that those suffering from chronic pain turning to alternate avenues for pain management. It is in this atmosphere of confusion that we have come face to face with one of the most contested topics in modern history: medical marijuana.
Over the last few years we have seen a tremendous rise in the use of medical marijuana. Notwithstanding the fact that marijuana itself is historically a hugely contested substance, we are now seeing its use infiltrate the medical world. With 29 states already legalizing medicinal herbal cannabis use, the question is why? What changed?
This is not an easy question to answer. The first reason is, as many of my previous posts have highlighted, the unprecedented rise of opioid addiction. As America wakes up to the deadly effects of opioid and opiate abuse, citizens are looking for alternate ways of controlling chronic pain. Another reason altogether may well be financial gain. Unfortunately, as with most medical trends, the government has seen a window of economic growth and has, as such, given the all clear for medical marijuana use. Be that as it may, when looked at alongside opioid use, herbal cannabis for medical reasons may well make sense. Take a look:
Unlike synthetic medications such as opioids, medical marijuana is from natural origins. It has been proven to relieve back pain and alleviate the symptoms of chronic pain. Because of this does, it does offer a less harmful alternative to opioids for those seeking pain relief in the short term. It is also less addictive and dangerous than opioids, albeit that it, too, carries risks. Seeing that medical marijuana is less addictive than opioids, it may well enable the patient to control pain a little more safely, at least in the short term.
Medical marijuana has also been found to help alleviate alcohol cravings in patients suffering from addiction. The same is true for addiction to drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and yes… even painkillers.
Herbal, medicinal cannabis has similarly shown to subdue anxiety in those suffering from eating disorders. Studies have shown that this more natural alternative to psychotropic drugs dramatically improves the patient’s mental state.
Depression and Psychosis
Research indicates, too, that medical marijuana may indeed alleviate the symptoms of depression and even psychosis. Whilst antidepressants and psychotropic drugs may lead to disastrous side-effects, medical marijuana seems to act as a natural stabilizer.
Joycelyn Elders, a leading MD, pediatrician, and Public Health Administrator has stated that
"The evidence is overwhelming that Marijuana can relieve certain types of pain, nausea, vomiting and other symptoms caused by such illnesses as multiple sclerosis, cancer and AIDS or by the harsh drugs sometimes used to treat them. And it can do so with remarkable safety. Indeed, Marijuana is less toxic than many of the drugs that physicians prescribe every day."
But please remember that there are always risks. Whilst medical marijuana can be helpful, its abuse will lead to some serious side effects and health issues:
As with all medications, medical marijuana poses a risk of overdose. An excess of THC (the most dominant active ingredient in marijuana) could lead to an adverse effect on your system. Be careful and always adhere to the advisory dosages.
Because medical marijuana is smoked it is, consequently, dangerous for your lungs. Though less harmful than the tar and tobacco found in cigarettes, the mere fact that smoke is being breathed into the body does pose a risk.
As medicinal marijuana is used to decrease anxiety and promote a more relaxed state of mind in patients suffering from mental distress, the overuse of it can lead to sedation which could alter the function of the brain. Learning inability or tardy responses may be the result of constant and/or overuse of medical marijuana.
Whilst medical marijuana may seem harmless, its prolonged use can lead to addiction. It is incredibly important to monitor its use and intake.
As with everything in life, medical marijuana needs to be approached with a thorough understanding of its usefulness and pitfalls. This post is written with the patient already taking opioids in mind; I do not recommend medical marijuana for first time users. Always consult a doctor and never overdose on it.
Please remember that medical marijuana is used, primarily, for the control of pain, the management of chronic pain, or even for nausea in cancer patients. It is predominantly used as a more natural alternative to opioids. Marijuana cannot cure an ailment or ensure the recovery of the patient. ALWAYS see a professional. And when it comes to pain, be that back pain, knee pain, or even shoulder or neck pain, make sure you see a qualified Physical Therapist for assessment and treatment. Medical marijuana should never be the first option. Never rely on any form of drug, natural or otherwise – remember, your health is in your hands. Make the right choice!
It is clear that there is an unnecessary stigma around the idea of medical marijuana use. The benefits are significant when compared to opioids. As a professional, I believe that a life hooked on opioids is dangerous; for patients pinned under the weight of opioid addiction, medical marijuana may be a potential recourse. I do not condone the long-term use of medical marijuana, rather I can see the benefits of it as a way to step away from the misuse of opioids. When looked at from this perspective, the use of medical marijuana to replace potentially lethal opioid dependence may be beneficial in the short term.
If you are suffering with chronic back, neck, shoulder or knee pain why not request a free telephone consultation with our expert physical therapist to find out whether physical therapy might be able to relieve your pain?