UK Docs Say Cannabis is Just a New Addiction Problem NOT a Solution to the Opioid Crisis
A strong faction of doctors in the UK are crying foul over the increased access to cannabis for patients, saying they have become inadvertent “drug dealers.”
There has been an exponential increase in opioid addiction in the last decade, leading to a medical crisis in the management of chronic pain. In 2016 alone, more than 42,000 deaths were directly attributable to opioid overdose while the figure for the last decade stands at 250,000. Naloxone has been the ‘go to’ emergency medicine to reverse opioid overdose. You will find it within the gear of first responders, in the store fronts of high volume drug use areas, and even carried by opioid users.
In a recent report cited in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s Internal Medicine magazine, two massive studies detailed opioid prescriptions issued over a five year period under Medicare and Medicaid. Results revealed that opioid prescriptions reduced by 5.88% in states that enacted laws allowing for the medical use of cannabis and by 6.38% in states that allowed for the recreational use of medical cannabis. While states that allowed for the purchase of medical cannabis from medical dispensaries, there was a 14.5% decline in opioid prescriptions.
The cannabis landscape is not very different in the UK, with chronic pain sufferers, epileptics, and others pushing the government to allow for the legalization of medical and recreational cannabis use. The landmark cases of Alfie Dingley and Billy Caldwell sparked emotions from both sides of the divide with cannabis supporters taking the day. Cannabis oil was legalized and added to the NHS list on Thursday, November 1 after the government reconsidered its take on the issue. Doctors are now able to dispense cannabis oils and other cannabis products to a limited number of patients in England, Scotland and Wales.
But this move has been met with resistance from a fraction of the medical fraternity. Some experts argue that as much as cannabis is not as addictive as opioids it may equally cause dependency problems.
In a scathing letter directed to The Times, 166 pain experts from across the UK expressed concerns of being pushed to ‘becoming drug dealers inadvertently’. They strongly attacked the move to legalize medical cannabis in the UK saying that the move was both precocious and not scientifically informed. They expressed fears that the final outcomes may be similar to the opioid crisis.
The letter went on to condemn the government for making the decision based on political expediency rather than sound medical advice. Physicians laid claim to the fact that there is not sufficient, persuasive medical evidence to warrant this move. And they warn that cannabis may put patients at greater mental health risks.
Some doctors claim that patients are already walking into their clinics and demanding cannabis upfront and were not willing to explore other treatment options. They had further fears that drug peddlers may exploit this loophole to further their illicit trade and exploit those with chronic pain.
The letter, which was signed by Dr Rajesh Munglani, a consultant in pain medicine with a private practice in Cambridge and London, was sent to The Times and further warned that, “There is not enough evidence that cannabis is effective at treating pain and it could put patients at risk of mental health problems.”
But the cannabis campaign group “End Our Pain” has argued that doctors have a ‘cultural objection’ to the drug to the disadvantage of deserving patients.
Cannabis oil has been illegal because it contains the chemical tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which has a psychoactive effect on the brain. This differs from CBD, which is also derived from cannabis, but does not have any effect on the cognitive functioning.
Many studies have shown the effectiveness of cannabis as a painkiller. Cannabis has also been shown to be less addictive than other pain killers when used for a long time. This is what led some experts to believe that it could be used to avert the opioid crisis.
One milestone review of research published in the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, showed “conclusive evidence” for the effectiveness of cannabis as a treatment for chronic pain.
At the end of the day, the benefit to the patient should remain at the core of the matter, politics and cultural arguments aside. Probably legalization will speed up the research process so that there is enough evidence to back the claims on the effectiveness of cannabis as a safe replacement for opioid drugs. But, if preliminary findings are anything to go by, the pain specialists should not have much to worry about.