Medical marijuana is an effective painkiller
To understand the opioid epidemic, it’s crucial to understand that America has a pain problem. According to a 2011 report from the Institute of Medicine, about 100 million US adults suffer from chronic pain (such as lifelong back pain), and more suffer from acute pain (such as a temporary injury). These are the kinds of figures doctors were worried about in the 1990s and 2000s when they began prescribing opioid painkillers at record rates — by 2012, enough to give a bottle of pills to every adult in the country — and essentially caused the opioid epidemic, over time leading many people not just to misuse painkillers but also illicit opioids such as heroin or fentanyl.
Doctors generally did this with good intentions: They were misled by drug companies and public education campaigns that opioids were both effective and had a lower risk of misuse than other painkillers on the market. So they thought they finally had their way to treat the US’s pain problem without leading to addiction and overdoses.
Physicians were obviously wrong to believe that about opioids, and drug companies were wrong to mislead them. But the general point is they were trying to address a medical problem to the best of their abilities — a problem that remains to this day. The fact that opioids are now reviled as a result of the epidemic doesn’t remove the underlying issue that tens of millions of Americans suffer from debilitating pain, and doctors feel they need a way to address that issue.
Well, medical marijuana appears to offer one way to help deal with America’s pain problem without the risks of opioids.
The best review of the research to date on marijuana, published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, looked at more than 10,000 studies to evaluate pot’s potential benefits and harms.
The review concluded that there’s “conclusive evidence” for marijuana as a treatment for chronic pain, as well as multiple sclerosis spasticity symptoms and chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. The review also found “substantial evidence” linking pot to respiratory problems if smoked, schizophrenia and psychosis, car crashes, lagging social achievement in life, and perhaps pregnancy-related problems — but it didn’t find any good evidence that marijuana causes health complications, such as overdose, that can lead to death.
So the evidence suggests marijuana is effective for treating chronic pain, even if it may come with some nonfatal risks.