“Opioids” are painkillers, which have a pain-suppressing effect on the opioid receptors. These receptors are mostly located in the central nervous system, which is anchored in the brain and in the spinal cord. In these areas, the opioids suppress the transmission and processing of painful stimuli. On the one hand, opioids are often used for acute pain, e.g. after surgeries or serious injuries. On the other hand, opioids are often used for treating chronic pain.

Although the use of this kind of painkillers can be very effective, it also poses a number of dangers. Because opioids are both euphoric and anxiolytic, they can be addictive and the consumer can become addicted to them. In addition, opioids can lead to negative side effects, such as nausea and vomiting, constipation and liver damage.

Studies on opioids and medicinal cannabis

There have been several studies in the past that have argued that cannabis also has pain relieving properties and could be an alternative treatment for pain patients. In a recent study, at the University of New Mexico (USA), they investigated how cannabis can reduce the opiate uptake for pain patients. In the study 37 pain patients, enrolled in the Medical Cannabis Program (MCP), were compared with 29 patients, who were not enrolled in the MCP. Patients, enrolled in the MCP, were also treated with cannabis, in contrast to the control group. Over a period of 21 months, researchers observed the prescription of opioids to the patients.

It was found that the MCP patients used less opioids after one year of being enrolled in the program, than those who did not participate in the medical cannabis program. Most patients at least reduced their dosage, while some actually completely stopped their use of this painkiller. This ultimately had a positive effect on the quality of life of the patients. In addition, the patients achieved improvements in their “social-life”, their level of activity and their concentration. On the other hand, there were only minor side effects from taking cannabis.

Based on these findings, the authors concluded that there is a relation between the inclusion of patients in the MCP and their decline in opioid uptake, as well as the improvement in their quality of life. Therefore, they call for “further investigation into cannabis as a potential alternative to prescribed opioids for the treatment of chronic pain”.