The big news for marijuana in Canada came this past Fall. On October 17, Canada was the second country to legalize marijuana for recreational use, just behind Uruguay, and is the largest country to do so. Although it had been legal medicinally for 17 years, the increased acceptance of marijuana could mean much more to the general public than solely providing the ability to buy it freely.
In the healthcare world, there has been a spark of hope that increased access to marijuana could aid in the worldwide opioid crisis. Statistically, each country faces different threats as a result of the opioid crisis, but these drugs have generally become more problematic in the 21st century for a wide range of reasons.
Canada is second only to the United States in the rate opioids are ingested and opioid-related drugs contributed to 3,996 deaths countrywide in 2017 alone. While there is a level of uncertainty about why the opioid crisis has grown to what it is today, the addictive properties of opioids are undeniable. One study found that between 21% and 29% of patients prescribed opioids misuse them.
Addiction can begin a number of ways, ranging from peer pressure among teenagers, to getting into a car accident or receiving a cancer diagnosis.
Unfortunately, preventing an addiction is much easier and effective than recovering from one – and medical marijuana could be the pushed needed to combat the international opioid crisis.
Opioid Crisis: Addiction and Cancer
Following a cancer diagnosis, the thought of developing an addiction to medicine prescribed is most likely far from mind, but it’s a very real possibility. Cancer patients may be prescribed opioid drugs for a variety of reasons, including to combat the disease and to undergo painful treatments like chemotherapy, surgery and radiation. Thanks to recent advancements in healthcare, patients are prescribed medication as a form of chemotherapy.
Additionally, many patients use medication to manage pain in late stage cancers. Cancer tends to become more painful as stages progress, so managing late stage pain is of the utmost importance to both patient and doctor.
One cancer commonly diagnosed in its late stage is mesothelioma. Developing in the mesothelium of the lungs, abdomen or heart, mesothelioma has a long latency period following exposure to asbestos (10-50 years) and is easily misdiagnosed, all but guaranteeing a stage 4 diagnosis. Prescription opioids are often given to patients to help combat the pain of the cancer, especially since palliative care is a common occurrence due to its late stage diagnosis.
Medical Marijuana and Pain Management
For patients with painful cancers like mesothelioma, there may be an alternative for pain management: medical marijuana. There are several ways you can use medical marijuana. You can take it in liquid form by placing it under the tongue, eaten in some form of food, smoked, or inhaled with a vaporizer. You can also use marijuana topicals such as lotion, oil, cream, or spray. For patients with cancer that affect the lungs, like mesothelioma, patients should avoid smoking medical marijuana as the lungs are already weak.
CBD (cannabidiol) is a cannabis compound discovered in 1940. It contains the health benefits of marijuana without the mind altering effect of THC, which is why many cancer patients use CBD to manage their medical symptoms. CBD is accessible to cancer patients as an alternative to medication in countries where medical marijuana is legal and may reduce both pain and inflammation. Several studies have been done hypothesizing that medical marijuana could be pivotal in aiding adults with chronic pain, taking place of opioid drugs.
The new role marijuana has taken on in the 21st century opens up many doors for cancer patients. If you or someone you know wants more information about medical marijuana and CBD, consult with a doctor before starting any type of alternative treatment.