Weed Can Alleviate Withdrawal Symptoms with Opiate Addicts

By Victoria Kim 09/12/14

Add opiate withdrawal to the growing list of ailments aided by medical marijuana.

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Studies have shown that marijuana can be used to treat a profusion of ailments, including glaucoma, epileptic seizures, chronic pain, muscle spasms, post traumatic stress disorder, and Parkinson’s disease.

Recent studies indicate that marijuana could have a significant impact on opiate addiction as well. One study, funded by the National Institute for Health, showed that those who use marijuana during opiate withdrawal experience less severe withdrawal symptoms. The research, which focused on methadone maintenance treatment, also showed that once the patients stabilized on methadone, there was a decrease in their marijuana use.

Recovering heroin addicts attested to the benefit of using marijuana to alleviate the symptoms of opiate withdrawal like searing back pain, restless legs, nausea, and sleepless nights. Kevin, a recovering heroin addict of six years, used marijuana to complete his final detox 20 years ago.

“I had detoxed several times before I finally got off heroin for good in 1994,” he told the Daily Beast. “Each time I [detoxed], I used cannabis while I used heroin. It definitely helped with the process of withdrawal. Once I stopped using heroin for good, I never used cannabis again.”

For Kevin, the difference was noticeable. Marijuana had “lessened” his headaches and body aches. “Yes, I was still sick, but it made everything just a little more tolerable, and every little bit helps in that position,” he said.

Another recovering heroin addict, Justin, used for five years before getting clean. His experience was similar to what Kevin and many users describe. “It calmed me down [and] made my anxiety and nausea symptoms go way down,” he told the Daily Beast. “It really helped my appetite as I would not hardly eat ever, especially when the withdrawals first started.”

“After I was done with detox, I got a job and started living ‘right.’ I still use cannabis everyday,” he said.

In recent years, Americans’ consumption of opiates has risen to epidemic levels. In 2012 alone, an estimated 259 million prescriptions for painkillers were doled out to patients by health care providers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition, the CDC estimates 46 people die from prescription painkiller overdose every day in the United States.

Another study, by researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center, found that states which have legalized medical marijuana had on average 1,700 fewer deaths per year from prescription drugs than states without medical marijuana laws. In other words, access to medical marijuana was linked with significantly lower opioid overdose mortality rates. 

Though more research is needed to form a solid conclusion, it’s becoming more evident that for many individuals marijuana can both alleviate painful opiate withdrawal symptoms and provide a safer alternative to dangerously addictive prescription painkillers.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr