Ask Dr. David

Ask Dr. David: Addiction – Medical Cannabis Compared to Opioids

December 1, 2017

One of the great tragedies of our time is the explosive opioid epidemic that continues to rage across America. Opioids are relatively inexpensive, widely available, and have a tremendous potential for getting a person “hooked.” This is especially the case when taken in high dosages or for a prolonged period. While opioids are fantastic at relieving pain, there is a tendency for the person taking it to develop a tolerance to the drug over time. This means they require higher and higher doses to relieve their symptoms. Furthermore, patients can have severe withdrawal symptoms if and when they try to stop taking the opioid pain reliever.

It is well-documented that medical cannabis can also bring significant relief to those suffering from pain. But what about the potential for a patient to become addicted to cannabis?

Although studies have consistently shown cannabis is not physically addictive, for a small percentage of people marijuana can pose a risk of psychological addiction. For this reason, patients with a history of substance abuse (including alcohol) should be forthcoming with this information to their healthcare providers and support networks. This transparency is necessary for accurately weighing the pros and cons of taking any medication.

Compared to the high rate of opioid addiction, psychological dependence on cannabis is far less common, and the symptoms are rarely as severe. In addition, medical cannabis patients do not develop the physical withdrawal symptoms commonly associated with opioids. For example, within the first 24 hours of stopping opioids, a person may experience muscle aches, restlessness, anxiety, lacrimation (eyes tearing up), runny nose, excessive sweating, inability to sleep, and excessive yawning. After 24 hours, a person can experience diarrhea, abdominal cramping, goosebumps on the skin, nausea and vomiting, dilated pupils, blurred vision, rapid heartbeat, and high blood pressure. For more information on opiate withdrawal symptoms, click here.

In contrast, patients do not exhibit the same types of physical symptoms upon stopping medical cannabis. However, because they may not feel as good once the medical cannabis is stopped, they may want to keep taking it. The same would be true if the person were getting relief from another medication like ibuprofen or Prozac. We would not say someone was addicted to or dependent on Prozac if they decided to continue taking it to relieve their depression. If a patient needs to stay on a treatment over the long term, medical cannabis appears to be a safer option than most other alternatives.

Medical cannabis has also been used to help people with opioid addiction reduce or halt these destructive medications entirely. Day after day I hear about patients who are able to lower their opioid dose, or come off of them entirely, because of their medical cannabis treatment. Ironically, many of these patients actually get kicked out of their pain mediation clinics because they are also being treated with medical cannabis.

At Family Medical Cannabis Clinic we are excited to be able to help scores of people live happier, healthier, and more fulfilling lives while simultaneously helping curb the opiate epidemic.

Family Medical Cannabis Clinic and Wholistic Pediatric and Family Care have been treating patients with medical cannabis since 2016. As the Tampa Bay area’s leading authority on medical cannabis treatment and one of the nation’s most experienced pediatricians treating with medical cannabis, Dr. David Berger is committed to first understanding his patients’ needs. He then customizes a medical cannabis treatment plan that will produce the most effective results. For more information about medical cannabis treatment in Florida, please visit our website by clicking here. Existing patients may also contact the clinic directly through their patient portal.

In private practice since 1997, Dr. David is an advanced practitioner of biomedical therapies, advocating for the Autism Research Institute philosophy since 1999. In 2005, Dr. David opened Wholistic Pediatrics & Family Care (formerly Wholistic Pediatrics), his medical practice in Tampa, Florida. In 2010, Dr. David was appointed Assistant Professor at the University of South Florida College of Nursing. In 2012, he helped develop and lead the Preconception to Infancy Portland Think Tank, from which the national P2i initiative was developed. In 2016, he launched the Family Medical Cannabis Clinic to help qualified patients use medical cannabis as a treatment option.