As you probably know, marijuana has been a Schedule I controlled substance since 1970. This decision was justified by the suggestion that weed is ‘highly addictive’ and offers ‘no medical value.’ This notion is an outdated one, and in the almost half century since, thousands of studies have shown the potential merits of cannabis as a medical treatment. However, despite now being legal for medicinal purposes in 31 states, it remains federally illegal.
In contrast, dangerous prescription medications are everywhere. And despite constant price hikes, prescription drugs continue to sell rapidly. The average American, for example, spends over $1,100 on them annually. A report by IQVIA released in May 2017, showed that spending would increase by up to 7% in the next four years. By 2021, total annual expenditure on these drugs could exceed $600 billion.
“That’s understandable,” you say. “After all, people get sick and need medicine.”
While this is an unquestionably true statement, it fails to look at the overall picture. Not all prescription drugs are beneficial. In fact, opioids (extremely powerful painkillers handed out like candy) are sometimes deadly.
Preliminary estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), showed that drug overdoses killed approximately 71,000 Americans in 2017. Disturbingly, an estimated 2.1 million Americans had ‘opioid use disorders’ in 2016 — and marijuana is supposed to be the addictive drug! Moreover, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl are even more powerful than heroin, and arguably just as deadly.
Meanwhile, the ‘war on cannabis’ continues, although it seems to be getting propped up by Big Pharma as much as anything else. If marijuana ever becomes federally legal, pharmaceutical companies will lose billions. This is one of the reasons why some are creating synthetic versions of weed, which the FDA is all too happy to approve.
As the tide of public opinion turns, the evidence that shows why marijuana should be considered as a realistic alternative to prescription drugs grows. Here’s a quick overview of some of the most crucial studies to date.
But first, let’s look at how medical marijuana works in comparison to prescription medication.
Marijuana vs. Painkillers: Treating the Symptom vs. Treating the Disease
One of the major issues associated with prescription drugs is the fact that they only treat the symptoms. In contrast, there is a suggestion that cannabis is capable of easing the actual causes of the condition. To date, more than 110 cannabinoids have been found in weed. These are compounds that act with our endocannabinoid system, or ECS.
The ECS, discovered in 1992, regulates an array of our body’s functions including appetite, mood, pain response, sleep, and more. Cannabinoids such as THC and CBD mimic the chemical behavior and makeup of endocannabinoids, and can interact with the cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2) found throughout our central nervous system, immune system, and brain. Cannabinoids regulate neurotransmitter release when they interact with the CB1 and CB2 receptors, and help manage pain levels.
In contrast, opioids act on our brain’s opioid receptors to stimulate feelings of euphoria and pleasure. These drugs are designed so that they share a chemical structure similar to the brain’s natural transmitters. Rather than experiencing any lasting relief, opioids ‘mask’ the pain so there is no healing process taking place. Moreover, opioids are extremely addictive – to the point where people use marijuana to wean themselves off!
Marijuana Could Help You Escape the Deadly Grip of Opioids
A 2015 joint study by the Icahn School of Medicine and Scripps Research Institute looked at the impact of cannabis on opioid users. Researchers found that marijuana activates a class of neurotransmitters in the brain that “modulates the rewarding effects of addictive drugs.”
Cannabinoid receptors are found in areas of the brain that control reward and pleasure; when there is a dysfunction in that part of the brain, cannabis sends a message to cells telling them to stop looking for drugs. In other words, marijuana helps break the ‘drug-seeking’ message.
Another study* by researchers at the University of Georgia and published in the journal Internal Medicine (April 2018), looked at opioid usage among those who began using marijuana. In states with medical marijuana dispensaries, there was a 14% reduction in opioid use over five years.
Furthermore, a 2014 study* by Bachhuber et al. concluded that in 13 states where medical marijuana was legalized between 1999-2010, there was an incredible 25% decrease in the number of deaths attributed to opioid overdose. The researchers estimated that legal weed saved over 1,700 lives in these 13 states in 2010 alone!
Prescription Drugs Increase Violence
Those who rally against cannabis always claim that it increases the rate of crime. However, the majority of crimes related to marijuana are due to the federally illegal status of the drug itself. In the state of Nebraska for example, there has been an increase in illegal weed sales as the herb is brought in from Colorado. This is because marijuana is legal in Colorado, but not in Nebraska.
In reality, it is the prescription drugs peddled by Big Pharma that do most of the damage. A 2015 study* published in PLOS, for example, found that people between the ages of 15-24 in Sweden who took SSRIs, a form of antidepressant, were more likely to be convicted of a violent crime such as sex offenses and murder, than individuals in the same age group who were not on any kind of prescription medication.
Another study* published in PLOS in 2010 used FDA data to find that Americans who took antidepressants were more likely to commit violent crimes. In fact, violence related to prescription drugs is now tracked by law enforcement in every American state, yet this medication is perfectly legal to use as long as it is prescribed by a doctor!
Marijuana vs. Painkillers: Weed Has Far Fewer Side Effects
Those who fight against marijuana often claim that you will go crazy (Reefer Madness style) if you consume weed. It is true that weed can cause side effects such as paranoia and anxiety, especially if you use high-THC varieties.
However, the deleterious effects of marijuana pale in comparison to the list of possible negative effects associated with prescription drugs. If you’ve ever watched an ad for a Big Pharma drug, you’ll notice the possible side effects scroll down the screen; the list is almost as long as the end credits in a big budget Hollywood movie.
In fact, research published by Cheat Sheet showed an extraordinary number of possible side effects associated with some of the most popular prescription drugs on the market. The resource makes for particularly horrifying reading; for instance Vasotec, which is prescribed for cardiovascular problems, can cause dangerously low blood pressure and liver dysfunction!
Meanwhile, Xanax – the famed anti-anxiety drug – is notoriously addictive and can result in death from overdose. In contrast, marijuana, also used for anxiety, has never caused an overdose in recorded history, and is far less addictive.
Final Thoughts: Marijuana vs. Prescription Drugs
In the end, research is clearly illustrating the dangers of prescription medication while simultaneously extolling the virtues of medical marijuana. As weed is still federally illegal, scientists face a major barrier when trying to conduct further research, but as the public grows to realize the benefits of weed and the dangers of Big Pharma’s drugs, we hope that common sense will prevail.
There are hundreds of people dying from opioid overdoses on a weekly basis, while no one perishes due to marijuana. While opioids treat the symptom, they do nothing to combat the disease. Not only is weed nowhere near as addictive as prescription drugs like Xanax and Fentanyl, but it is also actually used to wean people off opioids! Cannabis advocates now have science on their side, so let’s see if knowledge truly does provide us with power.