Understanding opiate dependency

Opiates are drugs that are obtained from a substance known as opium, which comes from the poppy plant. The drug can also alternatively be produced by synthetic means. Since opium based drugs range far and wide, the term is used to generalize them. Some well known opiates include heroin, morphine, and codeine. Opiates can also be from prescription drugs such as fentanyl. In such cases, they are referred to as opioids. Both natural and synthetic opiates are highly addictive. These drugs also cause tolerance in the body, in that users are not able to gain the high they used to get from a previous dose of an opiate after extended use. As a result, the users seek higher and higher doses of the opiate substance they are addicted to. This puts them at greater risk of suffering an overdose.

The impact of opiate use

In 2010 alone, there were over 210 million prescriptions for opiates in the United States. That number has continued to increase over the years. There has also been an increase in the number of heroin users, with heroin being among the country’s most abused drugs. Opiate users upon taking a dose of their drug are usually drowsy, have notable euphoria, constricted pupils and may lose consciousness. Withdrawal symptoms once one decides to stop opiate use include headaches, nausea accompanied with frequent vomiting, and anxiety. An addict who has ceased opiate use may also undergo insomnia, fatigue, diarrhea, and sweats.

Overall, the abuse of opiates leads to a weakened immune system and numerous medical issues across the board. In some cases, however, opioid abuse can lead to death by overdose. In Canada, for instance, the abuse of prescription opioid fentanyl caused over one hundred deaths in Alberta province alone in the first quarter of 2017. In March alone, authorities in Vancouver reported 134 fentanyl-related overdose cases. Though many of the overdose patients did not die because of timely treatment, they suffered harsh withdrawal symptoms and put their families through trauma. Authorities said that the abuse and misuse of fentanyl in Canada is prevalent for the same reasons there is a heroin epidemic in the United States. The drug is readily available to users, particularly through the internet. It also comes in a numerous forms – tablets, patches and even lollipops. The life-threatening and addictive properties of fentanyl have necessitated the need to find alternate methods of treating opiate addiction.

How cannabis can treat opiate addiction

Few studies have been conducted on the treatment of opiate addiction with medical marijuana. This is mainly because Cannabis is still considered a schedule I drug and illegal in most states. That, however, doesn’t mean that there are no successful results. In an article published in Trends in Neurosciences, Dr. Yasmin L. Hurd discussed the milestones cannabis has covered in reducing symptoms of opiate addiction in animal models. Particularly, this article is centered on the phytocannabinoid cannabidiol. This component of marijuana has successfully demonstrated a reduction in addiction signs in some animal experiments.

In a publication of Addiction Biology made in 2013, researchers explained their findings of how rats induced with an opiate addiction had the symptoms of their addiction reduce. The lab rats were administered with medical marijuana which stopped the rewarding component of morphine from triggering the brain. This study showed the possibility of medical marijuana being used as a medication to decrease and eventually stop opiate addiction.

Some more research conducted by Dr. Hurd and other scientists showed that cannabidiol played a critical role in healing the damage caused by heroin throughout the endocannabinoid system. Cannabidiol also helped in normalizing the behavior of synapses within the central nervous system after they had been altered as a result of opiate use. That means medical marijuana could be utilized as a treatment for this type of addiction.

One of the few pilot studies for medical marijuana’s effects on humans showed that the drug reduced cravings for heroin in heroin abusers. Medical marijuana’s primary effect in line with this trial was observed to be a reduction in anxiety among the heroin users. As such, they were able to cope with their addiction more easily.

Overall, most of the evidence cites medical marijuana as a possible treatment for opiate addiction. However, more extensive research needs to be undertaken.

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