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People in Agony Turn to Marijuana for Pain Relief

Patients in pain are being denied opioids. The DEA, CDC and FDA advise against narcotics. Is an unexpected consequence increasing use of marijuana for pain?

A year and a half ago the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) made it much harder for people in pain to access hydrocodone-containing pain relievers. By restricting access to medications like Lortab, Norco and Vicodin, the goal was to make it harder for people to abuse such narcotics.

The trouble with the new policy is that many people in severe pain have had to seek relief through other means. Many health professionals might find their strategies shocking.

When Narcotics Are Not Prescribed for Severe Pain:

Q. I’m not a drug addict. I was in a bad car accident that destroyed five of the disks in my back.

When I asked for pain medicine, I was told to take ibuprofen. It didn’t matter that I am allergic to it.

As a result of the accident, I am in constant pain. My doctors don’t seem concerned. Thank goodness I’m in a state where medical marijuana is legal. That’s the only way I get by.

A. The FDA, DEA and CDC have all joined together to make narcotics much less accessible. This is because of excessive deaths from misuse and overdose of opioids.

Restricting access might reduce abuse, but chronic pain patients like you have written to us about the dilemma they face. Because of military injuries, accidents or unsuccessful surgeries, they suffer unbearable agony that sometimes persists even after trying many pain management approaches.

Medical Marijuana for Pain?

Marijuana (cannabis) is not a recognized pain medication, but some cancer specialists have noted that it may be helpful in treating pain, depression and insomnia (Current Oncology, March, 2016).

A recent survey of chronic pain patients found that those using medical cannabis had significantly cut their use of opioid drugs and reported improved quality of life (Journal of Pain, online March 19, 2016).

Anyone who would like to learn more about medical marijuana may be interested in our one-hour radio interview with David Casarett, MD, on the topic. Look for Show 1027 at PeoplesPharmacy.com.

Readers Weigh in on Marijuana for Pain Relief:

Debbie says:

“I think all the new regulations are going to make it harder for those of us who really need them. We jump through all the hoops, play all the games and it seems every day either the CDC, FDA, or DEA change the rules about pain killers!

“What they need to do is let the doctors do what they think is right for their patients and stay out of it! And medicinal marijuana should be an option!”

Mona surprised about marijuana for pain relief:

“I am 63 years old. Several years ago I developed bursitis. My doctor thought it might be sciatica but after an MRI it was determined to be bursitis.

“Before this, I never understood what was meant by chronic pain. I was sent to a pain clinic, was given a couple of shots and PT, with very little relief.

After getting my last and third shot I decided that I had to do something. When I went into the pain clinic that morning, my BP was 186/99. I was in pain so much that it surely had elevated my blood pressure even after I had taken my medications (metoprolol and losartan).

“I was encouraged by a friend to try medical marijuana. It took about four months to get approved by the New Mexico State health department. Had I not done this, I would never have believed the benefits of marijuana. I don’t like to smoke it, but I have been using the products with marijuana, especially a spray oil with magnesium and 40 mg cannabis.

“It has been a miracle to me. I can function again, I can sleep at night. I see mostly people my age and older at the dispensary. All I can say is ‘don’t knock it till you try it.'”

Bonnie and medical marijuana:

“As a health professional and admittedly a user of medical marijuana in a tincture form, I have first hand experience to the efficacy of it. I have multiple lower back injuries, including herniated discs, spinal stenosis, arthritis, and degenerative discs.

“A doctor informed me a lot of this is genetic in nature – my twin brother is going through similar miseries. Also, an MVA [motor vehicle accident] in 2008 pretty much put me on the road to permanent back problems and pain. I now use a cane for support, but without the tincture, the neuro pain would be intolerable. NSAIDS upset my stomach, and narcotics are out of the question because of the terrible constipation they cause in addition to the slower bowel motility from nerve compression. Yes, I am a definite advocate for medical marijuana for pain relief.”

To learn more about medical marijuana for pain relief take a few minutes to listen to our radio interview with Dr. Casarett. He was a skeptic at first, but did his homework and shared his expertise with our radio audience. You can stream the audio for free, purchase a CD or download an mp3. Perhaps someone you know could benefit or you might want to share this interview with a physician who is not up to speed on the latest research on marijuana for pain relief.

Share your own thoughts about this controversial topic below in the comment section.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.”.
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