Is Taking Cannabis for Pain the Solution to Oxycontin Addiction and Our Painkiller Epidemic?

Is Taking Cannabis for Pain the Solution to Oxycontin Addiction and Our Painkiller Epidemic?

If you’ve been reading or watching the news recently, chances are you’ve heard about the terrible painkiller epidemic going on now in the United States.

Here are a few facts:

Health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for painkillers in 2012 (the most recent year available), enough for every American adult to have a bottle of pills. (And this figure keeps going up.)

Overdoses involving prescription painkillers have become a leading cause of injury deaths in the U.S.

Hospital care for victims of prescription painkiller overdose cost an estimated $1.4 billion in one year.

Each day, 46 people die from an overdose of prescription painkillers in the US.

Extended use of prescription painkillers can create a chemical tolerance toward the prescribed opioids, and may in some instances transition to abuse of heroin, which is cheaper and in some areas of the country easier to obtain than prescription opioids.  (This data has been taken for the government website;

We can see by these statistics that prescription painkillers are overprescribed, highly addictive and dangerous.

Side effects of Oxycontin, one of the most frequently prescribed painkillers,




loss of appetite

dry mouth


stomach pain






mood changes

According to the FDA, some of the more serious side effects of taking Oxycontin for pain are:

fast or slow heartbeat

chest pain




swelling of the face, throat, tongue, lips, eyes, hands, feet, ankles, or lower legs


difficulty breathing or swallowing


extreme drowsiness

lightheadedness when changing positions

Oxycontin is also highly addictive

On the other hand, what about the use of cannabis for pain?  Numerous studies and results of hundreds of thousands of patients from ancient times to current times have proven; marijuana is an effective treatment for pain.  Taking cannabis to relieve pain works.  Formal tests have been conducted on the use of cannabis for ocular pain and pressure from glaucoma, the pain of neuropathy, migraines, stomach pain, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), muscle cramps, arthritis, nausea and other types of chronic pain.

In 2009, an international team of investigators from the United Kingdom, Belgium and Romania affirmed the analgesic properties of cannabis, demonstrating once again the effectiveness of marijuana in reducing pain.

Cannabis may also play another significant role in the reduction of pain and reducing America’s dependence on opioids, which has created our painkiller epidemic.

A 2011 clinical trial assessing the administration of vaporized plant cannabis in chronic pain patients on a daily regimen of morphine or oxycodone reported that inhaled “cannabis augments the analgesic effect of opioids.” The authors concluded, “The combination (of opioids and cannabinoids) may allow for opioid treatment at lower doses with fewer side effects.”

One of the many medical doctors currently advocating the prescribing of medical marijuana for pain is retired heart surgeon, Dr. Thomas Orvald.  In his YouTube video, Cannabis in Pain Management the doctor explains, “One of the problems we have today in medicine is the excessive use of narcotics and opiates, which has escalated over the past few years and has become such a severe problem. I see it every single day.”

In the same video, one of Dr. Ovald’s patients explains how she felt being able to go off her numerous prescription medications and to be treated instead with medical cannabis. The drugs previous doctors had given her had made her feel like she wasn’t even herself any more.  “When I got off those and started on marijuana I felt like me again.  I could move around…I can be an active person in society.”

Furthermore Dr. Orvald has this to say about the prejudice internationally against the medical use of cannabis, “The war on marijuana is insane, the stigma on cannabis, it’s vilification, and the prejudicial inhumane treatment of those who choose to use it as a medicine are notions steeped in ignorance and stupidity, and billions, quite literally billions of individuals throughout the entire world suffer as a result of cannabis ignorance and prohibition.”

Remember all the side effects of the most frequently prescribed painkiller, Oxycontin?  Compare those to the side effects of cannabis as a treatment for pain.

Studies have shown marijuana prescribed for pain management is, “very well-tolerated; minimal drug-drug interactions; minimal adverse Effects” (Ware, et al)

Possible side effects can include:

Trouble thinking and remembering

Bloodshot eyes

Dry mouth (cotton mouth)

Increased appetite (the “munchies”)

Fast heart rate

Slowed coordination

How about overdose?  Each day 46 people die from painkiller overdose.  Nobody has ever died from an overdose of Cannabis.

Looking through the evidence regarding cannabis and marijuana as tested and prescribed for pain, it’s hard to imagine why the government would stop doctors from recommending cannabis for the chronic pain as it is experienced by their patients.

Perhaps taking cannabis for pain is the solution to Oxycontin addiction and

America’s painkiller epidemic.

Meridith Berk