It may not come as a surprise to hear there is a global opioid crisis happening right now. Outside the UK and US, countries like Norway, Portugal, Sweden and Estonia are also experiencing opioid overuse and addiction. Carl Esprey look’s at why the humble marijuana plant used to create medicinal cannabis could signal the end of the opioid crisis.
In clinical trials, over 85% of UK patients reported that they found medicinal cannabis to be more effective in treating pain than opioids and other pain medicine, suggesting that prescribing cannabis for medical use could help resolve the global opioid crisis.
The Fight Against Chronic Pain
Millions of people across the world suffer from chronic pain in one form or another every day. Chronic pain lasts three months or longer and has a significant negative impact on a person quality of life. The Covid-19 pandemic has left many more people suffering from musculoskeletal pain after coming down with the virus and has reportedly caused those already experiencing chronic pain to suffer from more significant pain with what is now known as long-Covid.
According to the British Medical Journal (BMJ), “chronic pain affects between one-third and one-half of the population of the UK, corresponding to just under 28 million adults, based on data from the best available published studies. This figure is likely to increase further in line with an ageing population.” Science Daily says, “Researchers report that 50.2 million (20.5 per cent) U.S. adults experience chronic pain based on analysis of the new NHIS data. They estimated the total value of lost productivity due to chronic pain to be nearly $300 billion annually.”
Traditionally, certainly since the 90s, opioids have been the go-to for physicians to prescribe for pain symptoms. The unfortunate reality is that opioids are highly addictive, which has led to people taking more than the recommended dose, taking them too frequently and in some cases overdose, leading to death! For this reason, even the UN is looking into the global opioid crisis and considering how it is best managed.
Why Medicinal Cannabis Could Signal the End of the Opioid Crisis
Medicinal cannabis derived from the cannabis plant has shown great promise in replacing opioids to help manage severe forms of chronic pain. More research is being carried out all the time on how effective medical cannabis is in helping to treat different conditions, specifically those impacted by pain.
Project Twenty21 is running an active study monitored by Drug Science on patients with specific conditions currently being treated with traditional medication. The project aims to create the UK’s largest body of evidence to provide to the NHS so they can put more funding into prescribing medicinal cannabis for those who need it.
“There is little or no evidence that [commonly prescribed drugs, such as benzodiazepines or opioids] make any difference to people’s quality of life, pain or psychological distress, but they can cause harm, including possible addiction” – National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE).
Preliminary findings show that prescribed medical cannabis has helped improve the quality of life for several medical conditions by over 50%.
Prescribing medical cannabis was made legal in the UK in November 2018 to be prescribed for particular conditions (such as epilepsy and MS) and by those on the Specialist Register of the General Medical Council. GP’s can make referrals, but these are extremely limited.
“A lack of clinical evidence has made it difficult for doctors to confidently prescribe legal, medical cannabis in the UK. These new findings provide a major step forward, and help to clarify the benefit these medicines can have for thousands of seriously ill patients.” – Prof David Nutt, Founder of Drug Science.
The Medicinal Cannabis Solution
The cannabis plant has been around for centuries and had been used in many ways for medical purposes until recent years. The compounds in the cannabis plant are cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC); both have been shown to provide therapeutic benefits.
The THC element provides the “high” associated with the cannabis plant. Tests show that a combination of the two in small quantities for specific medical conditions can be more beneficial than prescribing on their own. CBD alone is generally well tolerated.
These promising trials and preliminary findings are precisely why medicinal cannabis could signal the end of the opioid crisis with further research needed. For the sake of so many lives, we very much hope it does.
Carl Esprey is the founder and CEO of Botanical Holdings in London, an investment holding company for the legalised cannabis sector, working across product development, agronomy, pharmaceuticals, and agriculture. Botanical Holdings portfolio includes Portugal-based Eurocan, which aims to become a world leader in producing cannabis products for medicinal use.