According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 115 people in the United States die every day from opioid overdoses. Nearly 40 percent of these overdoses occur as a result of prescription painkiller abuse and dependency, with many patients initially using their prescribed pain medications as part of a treatment for an injury or to aid recovery after a surgery.
With so many Americans becoming addicted to these dangerous medications, trying to comprehend why doctors would continue to prescribe highly addictive painkillers is difficult and disheartening.
However, there are alternative methods for patients to relieve their pain without putting themselves at risk for addiction. While it is inevitable that pain and discomfort will occur after a surgery or while enduring an intensive chemotherapy treatment, natural alternative methods such as CBD oil (Cannabidiol) may help relieve pain and ensure that a person doesn’t become addicted to deadly painkillers.
What is a prescription opioid?
Opioids are derived from the Papaver somniferum plant, more commonly known as an opium poppy. They deliver pain relief by binding to opioid receptors throughout the body, and block pain signals sent from the brain to the body. This causes an excess of dopamine to be released, and in turn, relief to be felt by the user.
By using a prescription opioid, a prescribed dosage will be given to the patient to relieve their symptoms and allow them to feel relaxed through the healing process. However, due to prescription opioids creating a sense of euphoria, the body may become reliant, causing the user to take a higher dose than prescribed and lead to an addiction or overdose.
A glimpse at the pharmaceutical industry
It is no secret that pharmaceutical companies are in the business of making astronomical profits. According to Forbes, pharmaceutical giants such as Purdue Pharma are making 3 billion dollars a year, with a large percentage of that gross total coming from the sale of their painkiller, Oxycontin.
With the ability to patent and manufacture prescription drugs at scale, new painkillers enter the market every year, adding to the laundry list of pain medications that doctors already prescribe.
As patients, we expect that doctors are always putting our health as a top priority above anything else. However, when money is involved, some doctors may be more inclined to prescribe a certain medication if they know they will receive a kickback from the pharmaceutical company that manufactures the drug.
While this isn’t always the case, CNN reported that Dr. Aathirayen Thiyagarajah, a doctor specializing in pain management, had made over $200,000 USD for prescribing patients Subsys, an oral spray form of fentanyl which is nearly 100 times stronger than morphine.
With these types of incentives, it is easy to see why a doctor would prescribe certain medications, some of which may not necessarily be needed by a patient.
In 2017, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 58 opioid prescriptions were written per every 100 Americans. With this amount of overprescribing, it isn’t surprising that this has become a widespread problem throughout the U.S. and will continue to grow if regulation does not occur.
To add fuel to the flame, prescription abusers may not be able to fund their addiction, and end up turning to non-prescription opioids such as heroin. This has led to the formulation of an unregulated illegal opioid market, where users will assume the risk of taking an unknown dosage of heroin or fentanyl, causing them to overdose.
A drop of hope
Fortunately, all-natural and non-addictive alternatives such as CBD oil are being brought to market. CBD, otherwise known as cannabidiol, is derived from the Cannabis sativa plant and is most commonly associated with its psychoactive counterpart, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
CBD does not produce the euphoric effects that THC does. This form of non-addictive, natural pain relief allows the patient to feel relaxed without becoming addicted.
However, the difference between these two is that CBD does not produce the euphoric effects that THC does. This form of non-addictive, natural pain relief allows the patient to feel relaxed without becoming addicted.
The oil is believed to act the same way that an opioid would within the body. By attaching to pain receptors throughout the body, it provides relief from the pain. What is different is the way in which the pain is relieved.
Our bodies contain an endocannabinoid system that regulates compounds such as CBD. CBD promotes other compounds in the body from being absorbed, such as anandamide, which is known for causing pain relief. CBD oil is typically taken orally through droplets, or mixed into a food or beverage. It can also be used topically, and is used in creams to provide pain relief for patients with joint problems or Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
While pain from surgery is typically temporary, longer-lasting pain such as that associated with cancer may take a very long time to subside. For patients with rare cancers such as mesothelioma, treatments are often exhaustive and cause the patient to experience chronic pain.
As of now, many cancer patients are prescribed the typical oxycodone or hydrocodone, both of which are painkillers known for their high rates of addiction. CBD oil combined with over-the-counter pain medication may be another possible resolution to pain relief, as opposed to taking an addictive painkiller.
With regulations being lifted slowly around the globe, more research is beginning to be conducted about the benefits of cannabis and the effects it has on our health.
Hopefully, doctors will begin to adopt medicinal forms of cannabis into their pain management regimens and give patients an option as to what they can use for pain relief. As more patients begin to use CBD, we will almost definitely see a drop in the number of opioid-related deaths in the near future.