Dr. Frank recently surveyed 4,276 medical marijuana patients, asking them “Do you use cannabis to replace or reduce intake of any other medications?”
51% of those surveyed used cannabis to replace or reduce their intake of painkillers, 27% antidepressants, 10% anxiolytics, 3% barbiturates and 2% anticonvulsants.
So, the question is, “How and why does cannabis replace or reduce the intake of painkillers?
Dr. Frank have written a little bit about this subject before, but thought it best to go into a bit more detail …
THC Seems to Affect Opioid Receptors
There are 4 types of opioid receptor:
- Delta (δ) DOR OP1(I) – Subtypes delta 1 and delta 2 – the delta opioid receptors are responsible for analgesic, antidepressant and convulsant effects. May have an effect on respiratory depression. Plays a role in physical dependence.
- Kappa (κ) KOR OP2(I) – Subtypes kappa 1, kappa 2 and kappa 3 – the kappa opioid receptors are play a role in analgesic, anticonvulsant, dissociative/hallucinatory, diuretic and sedative effects. Kappa opioid receptors are also involved in the development of depression, miosis (constriction of the pupil), neuroprotection and stress.
- Mu (μ) MOR OP3(I) – Subtypes mu 1, mu 2 and mu 3 – μ-opioid receptors are responsible for: analgesia and physical dependence, (μ-1 opioid receptors); respiratory depression, miosis, euphoria, reduced GI motility and physical dependence (μ-2 opioid receptors); and possibly vasodilation (μ-3 opioid receptors). The delta-opioid receptors may also interact with mu-opioid receptors to induce respiratory depression.
- Nociceptin NOR OP4(I) – Subtype ORL1 – nociceptin opioid receptors are responsible for anxiety, depression, appetite and development of tolerance to mu-opioid receptor agonists.
According to this study, mu-opioid receptors play a role in THC’s rewarding effects. This study on mice, however, shows that the motivational effects of cannabinoids involve both mu- and kappa- opioid receptors. This suggests that THC may be used to help beat pain by affecting the opioid receptors, but without the addiction and chances of overdose.
Cannabis: a “Multi-Pronged” Painkiller
Physical pain is just one part of pain. There’s the psychological, emotional and mental aspects of pain as well, and opioids do not necessarily help treat these, and often makes things worse. Cannabis has a range of terpenes and cannabinoids that act as anti-inflammatories, neuroprotectives, a treatment for addiction, antidepressants & anxiolytics, and even as a superbug killer. The multiple potential uses of cannabis could even arguably make cannabinoid-terpenoid-based medications superior to many of the medications we prescribe for pain in contemporary medicine. Many people may even prefer cannabis to opioids, and this “multi-pronged” effect could be one of the reasons why.
The “Pill Cocktail”
When it comes to controlling chronic pain, it’s not always just opioids that are prescribed, but a whole cornucopia of pills. Often, it’s a case of benzodiazepines, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), antidepressants and other analgesics being prescribed as well. Some antidepressants (especially more recently-developed ones such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)), weaker NSAIDs such as ibuprofen and analgesics such as acetaminophen are relatively well-tolerated, but opioids and stronger NSAIDs can cause a whole host of issues, such as addiction, kidney failure, nausea and overdose.
Moreover, some of these medications may be contraindicated when used in combination with one another, making even innocuous drugs more dangerous. Taking acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol) with your opioids can increase the strength of opioids, and thereby increasing the chances of overdose. Cannabis, which could potentially be used to replace or reduce intake of all of these other pills, may be able to lessen the chances of an overdose happening in the first instance.
To read more on the results from our study, check out Dr. Frank’s website, where they uncover cannabis’s potential not only for pain, but for 39 other conditions as well!