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Faced with the struggle of choosing between addictive opioids or life in agony, many chronic pain sufferers are turning to cannabis as an alternative treatment and means to reduce use of their pharmaceutical painkillers.

In June 2016, a breakthrough article in The Journal of Pain (Volume 17, Issue 6) cited quantifiable evidence that pain sufferers are medicating with cannabis as a substitute for opioid use. The article, “Medical Cannabis Use is Associated with Decreased Opiate Medication Use in a Retrospective Cross-Sectional Survey of Patients with Chronic Pain,” provides evidence of a 64 percent decrease in opioid use, decreased number and side effects of medication, and an improved quality of life.

A survey administered to 200+ Michigan medical cannabis patients over a 15-month period provided the data for this study. The study draws upon previous research, which reported strong associations between the passage of medical cannabis laws and a decrease in opioid overdose statewide.

cannabis-and-opioid-chart

The results of this study substantiate the anecdotal stories we’re hearing from our patients at Midwest Compassion Center (MCC), a dispensary in the Chicago suburbs that provides safe access to high-quality, affordable medical cannabis. Many patients medicating with cannabis no longer feel the need to take as many pain meds. They find that a cannabis regimen is equally as effective as the pharmaceuticals they may be taking but with far fewer side effects.

This begs the question: Should medical cannabis therapy be a part of opioid addiction treatment? Some companies, like MCC, are actively looking to ally with local mental health clinicians and substance abuse counselors to look into this further.

Heroin deaths are on the rise in our Illinois county (Will) and in nearby areas. Although pharmaceuticals, like Narcan, are often used to counter the effects of a heroin or opioid overdose, we want to be involved with examining natural medicine’s contribution to overdose prevention and opioid addiction as a whole.

While it is suspected that chronic pain sufferers use black-market cannabis in states where medical cannabis is still prohibited, an important aspect of future studies is having access to medical-grade cannabis that has undergone lab testing for purity, potency, consistency and contamination.

If evidence comes to light that supports medical cannabis as a treatment for opioid addiction, it leads one to wonder how cannabis therapy might be used as a treatment for other forms of addiction, like alcoholism. Though it’s counterintuitive on the surface, initial findings seem to warrant further medical research.

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Nicole van Rensburg
Nicole van Rensburg is a partner and co-founder of Midwest Compassion Center (www.midwestcompassion.org), a dispensary in the Chicago suburbs that provides safe access to high-quality, affordable medical cannabis. With 15 years of experience in the healthcare field, Nicole brings her expertise in physician education, quality assurance, public outreach and patient interactions to MCC. In an effort to destigmatize public perception around cannabis, Nicole frequently speaks to medical practitioners, Veterans groups, and state legislators. Nicole holds a BBA from Emory University and, as a scholarship recipient, is completing a MBA at Northwestern University. Nicole's hobbies include ballet, reading, and babysitting her niece and nephew. Contact her at nicole@midwestcompassion.org.

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