Photo Art by Leo McSweeney
Marijuana has gotten a pretty bad rap since around the Vietnam war, when soldiers smoked it regularly to calm their nerves, or escape the horrors they were living. When others hear that you’re using medical marijuana, you may not get a very warm response. The reality, however, is that marijuana has been used for thousands of years as treatment for all manner of illnesses.
There has never been a recorded death associated with overdosing on marijuana, because it just doesn’t happen. Meanwhile, there is a whole host of medications that are far more dangerous that are prescribed regularly, including opioids, which can cause addictions, and there are many overdoses associated with even over-the-counter drugs every year. One of the most interesting, and least-known dangerous drugs that are probably in your own house, is Acetaminophen.
Acetaminophen doses were calculated sometime in the 1950’s, based on the weight of the average male. Since then, the doses have not been reassessed or altered despite the fact that acetaminophen toxicity causes the most deaths in the U.S. and U.K. due to acute liver failure. Taking the drug with alcohol in your system is very dangerous, because the liver uses the same enzymes to process alcohol and acetaminophen; therefore, a much higher dose of acetaminophen ends up circulating through the body because the liver wasn’t able to process it. This can lead to toxicity, and acute liver failure. Think about that – taking just two acetaminophen tablets when you’ve been drinking can kill you, but it’s available over-the-counter. Weed, on the other hand, which nobody has ever overdosed on, was made illegal, and even today that stigma stands. Cannabis is still illegal in some states, and some provinces in Canada, and then there’s the Federal Government – even if it’s legal in one state, possession and use of it in any form is still illegal at the Federal level after Trump threw out the law passed in Obama’s days which banned Federal authorities from prosecuting for marijuana use/possession in those legal states.
Take the following into consideration:
Amitriptylene: overdose can cause death, requires medical attention
Opioids (oxy, morphine, dilaudid, etc): overdose can cause death, requires medical attention, are very addictive. Most doctors prescribe these, but don’t properly wean patients off, resulting in addiction, and, subsequently, the need to find opioids on the black market.
Ibuprofen: overdose can cause death, internal bleeding, requires medical attention.
Tylenol: dosing info is inaccurate, can cause kidney damage with use over time, can cause liver failure or kidney failure if used with alcohol or opioids, and new studies are suggestive that regular use can contribute to kidney cancer. Overdose requires medical attention.
Marijuana: can cause anxiety in some users with some types; smoking it can cause cancer over the long term. Not addictive, and no overdoses have ever been reported from its use.
In chronic pain patients, some are prescribed high doses of opioids over a long period of time. Opioids do work, but only for a while; the brain starts to ‘get used to’ opioids, requiring higher amounts of the drugs to give pain relief. Opioids should be considered carefully as a long-term solution to chronic pain, as over your lifetime, your brain will become accustomed to all types of opioids. Getting off them later, especially if your doctor doesn’t taper you and just cuts you off (which has been happening to a lot of chronic pain patients lately), leaving them addicted and in withdrawal. Chronic pain sufferers do try to avoid opioids for these reasons, but sometimes there are no other options. More and more people with chronic pain are turning to marijuana to help manage their pain symptoms, but there are problems associated with using marijuana for pain relief.
One of these issues is travelling with it. You can’t travel between provinces and states with it, or cross borders with it, most of the time. This is because every state and province has different laws, and not all have legalized marijuana. Keep this in mind if you’re considering a move to marijuana from opioids.
I’m not against opioids per se, but careful consideration needs to go into choosing the right pain relief, and while marijuana has been a great solution for some pain sufferers, it’s also complicated to use it. It’s not allowed to be smoked in public, and condos are moving to banning marijuana from the buildings and premises. Of course this doesn’t exclude oils or phoenix tears, but some people prefer to vape or smoke it, and this ban will effect them. With opioids travelling with them isn’t an issue; it’s recognized as a prescription. While marijuana does require a prescription, it is not always recognized as a legitimate, legal alternative treatment, and it’s also not covered by most insurance companies, though you can get a tax credit if you spend a lot of money on marijuana each year.
The stigma that’s still attached to marijuana will not be resolved until people are better educated about its use and effectiveness. Those who use it, understand marijuana and chose it after trying other treatments failed (in most cases). Those who don’t use it need to be compassionate and understanding of these individual’s rights to choose their own, legal treatment for their conditions, whether it’s seizures, migraines, fibromyalgia, or other pain. We have to start walking a mile in the shoes of those who use it medically before we can criticize them for their choices. Change needs to happen, because the laws can’t seem to keep up with the demand for easier access to marijuana for medical users. It’s a very grey area right now legally, and until it’s legalized fully in your state or province, it will continue to criticized under the weight of its former reputation as a recreational drug.