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Hashing out the Medical Marijuana Debate

By Kevin Glennon, vice president, clinical services and national product leader, home health & complex care. This is part five of our Managing the Pain of the Opioid Epidemic series. Catch up on parts one, two, three and four.


In 2017, the U.S. saw more than 45,000 overdose deaths involving opioids. Despite the inherent risk of addiction and death, opioids continue to be prescribed for pain management. This increased risk is causing many individuals to look elsewhere for solutions – one of those solutions being medical marijuana.

In this feature, National Product Leader for Home Health and Complex Care Kevin Glennon hashes out the difference between recreational and medical marijuana and explains how medical marijuana may be used as an alternative treatment for chronic pain without the risk of addiction or death.  

“Opioid abuse has created an epidemic of great proportions in the U.S.,” said Glennon. “There has to be a better way. We need to challenge ourselves to think outside the box to identify effective alternatives that can safely manage an injured worker’s pain, and ultimately assist in the road to recovery.”

What is Medical Marijuana

It’s important to keep in mind that medical marijuana is not recreational marijuana. There are critical differences, and they have to do with the Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD) make-up of each substance. THC is the substance that produces a euphoric sensation. CBD, on the other hand, doesn’t produce the psychoactive effects as seen with THC. Medical marijuana contains higher CBD and lower THC content limiting the “high” experienced from recreational marijuana.

How Does Medical Marijuana Combat Chronic Pain

The active chemicals in medical marijuana are similar to chemicals the body makes to fight pain. When used, medical marijuana enhances the pain-fighting chemicals we create on our own. This can result in reduced anxiety, inflammation and tight muscles, common issues that plague injured workers’ ability to get well.   

Effectiveness of Medical Marijuana

So how effective is medical marijuana? While we know it can reduce pain, the evidence for its effectiveness on chronic pain is hard to find – mainly because there haven’t been enough large-scale studies done. There are some smaller studies, however, that have shown promising statistics.

The Atlantic reported that U.S. states with legalized medical marijuana have a higher rate of patients electing to use medical marijuana over opioid medications. A separate JAMA study found that states with legalized medical marijuana laws experienced nearly 25 percent reduction in death from opioids.

In Conclusion

While there’s a lack of data to prove its effectiveness, medical marijuana may offer a less addictive option than opioids to pain management. It’s just one more alternative to explore and consider in the journey to help an injured worker regain health and return-to-work.

 

References:

Interstate Variations in Use of Narcotics, 2nd Edition. Vennela Thumula, Dongchun Wang, and Te-Chun Liu. May 2014. MMWR Morb Mortal Weekly Rep 2016;64:1378-1382.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/data/overdose.html
Retrieved from: https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates
Retrieved from: https://docmj.com/2017/06/05/difference-medical-recreational-marijuana/

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