According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “every day, more than 115 people in the United States die after overdosing on opioids,”(Opioid). The misuse of an addiction to opioids like, prescription pain relievers, heroin, and synthetic opioids is a serious national crisis. Therefore presenting the question to many Americans whether or not people should be allowed medical marijuana in order to relieve their pain over opioids. One cannot fully take a stance on the efficacy of the two drugs without understanding the biological and at time psychological effects of the two.
What is marijuana and what are opioids? Cannabis and opioids are both known for their analgesic, pain-relieving effects (leafly). Cannabis is the scientific name of marijuana. Marijuana is a greenish-gray mixture of the dried flowers of Cannabis sativa. Marijuana is federally illegal in the United States, yet many states have legalized the drug for medical and recreational use (NIDA). Meaning, federally, it is illegal to use and possess the drug but in states, like Colorado or California, it is legal to use the drug for both recreational or medical reasons. The drug is federally illegal due to the fact that it is on the schedule 1 classification list. A drug on that list has high risk of abuse and a risk for severe psychological and physical dependence (Schedule 1).
This may make no sense but in a memo written by Deputy Attorney General, David Ogden, from the Obama administration, stated that if a state met certain guidelines when it came to marijuana legalization, federal prosecutors would put their time elsewhere (The CAP·impact Podcast – Episode 18). Recreational, marijuana is generally used either in hand-rolled cigarettes, joints, or in pipes or water pipes. Some people also, can mix marijuana in food, such as brownies, cookies, or brew it as a tea (Marijuana). Opium is the dried milky juice of the unripe seed capsule of the poppy, the Papaver somniferum. The word opium is derived from “opos”, the Greek word for juice (Vanderschuren). Opioids are drugs used for pain relief and for a number of other therapeutic indications. It is believed that addicts will initiate their drug-taking habit because of the inherent euphoric action of opioids and will continue their habit to prevent the occurrence of withdrawal symptoms (Ncbi: Opioid Dependence). Some well-known opioids are Hydrocodone, fentanyl, and oxycodone.
Marijuana use has many negative effects from short-term memory problems to a slower cognitive development to a failing endocrine system. According to Dr. Todd Brown, a MD at Johns Hopkins, marijuana can acutely alter hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal integrity and affect the reproductive function by acting at the hypothalamus. (Endocrine Effects of Marijuana). This discusses how Marijuana can alter the faith we put in our Hypothalamus and Pituitary Gland and more specifically how marijuana affects the sex hormones with in those parts of the brain. When using marijuana you can have a seriously increased sex drive due to the irregular release of sex hormones in the pituitary gland. The use of marijuana also effects short term memory (Volkow).
The impaired short term memory can make it difficult to learn and retain information. Dr. Ziva Cooper, an associate professor at Columbia University, and a guest on Bill Nye Saves the World; The Marijuana Episode, who has been federally aloud to run double blind tests on what the THC can do to ones body, speaks more on how this affects the adolescent mind. Dr. Cooper does not think it is a good idea for adolescents, who still have a developing mind, to use marijuana for many reasons. This is because smoking marijuana at a younger age has effects on cognitive development (The Marijuana Episode). The slowing of cognitive development would cause a kid to have difficulty in remembering, problem solving, and decision making like other kids their age. They would be more behind in school and have less of an success rate through life (Cognitive). Therefore, as one can see smoking Marijuana can have a variety of effects on someone and they are generally negative.
The use of opioids can also have many effects on the human body. Those including effects to the digestive system, respiratory system, nervous system, and brain. The use of opioids affects the muscles involved in the work of the digestive system this leading to chronic constipation due to the slowing of the digestive transit. The slowed gastrointestinal motility and chronic constipation associated with opioid abuse has the potential to place users and a heightened risk of much more serious digestive system conditions such as, small bowel obstruction. Nausea is also found frequently in opioid users, as well as in some cases uncontrollable vomiting (Effects of Opiates). Next, the use of opioids can lead to a respiratory depression, which is a slowing of breathing. At sufficient doses, respiratory arrest could deprive the brain and body tissue of oxygen. This many times has been proven to be fatal or can result in a debilitating organ system injury (Effects of Opiates).
Third, the chronic use of opioid painkillers can ironically lead to a syndrome called hyperalgesia. Hyperalgesia is a syndrome that causes increased sensitivity to pain. Opioid use can also be associated with psychomotor impairment, which is an overall slowing of a person’s physical movements and loss of coordination (Effects of Opiates). Lastly, the brain is affected through the developing of the addiction. Opioids are highly addictive because they activate powerful reward centers in your brain. Opioids trigger the release of endorphins, which are the body’s feel-good neurotransmitters. These endorphins muffle your perception of the chronic pain and boost your feelings of pleasure. This creates a temporary but powerful sense of well-being. When the dosage begins to wear off, you may find yourself wanting those feelings back, and that is the first milestone of a path toward addiction and physical dependence of the drug (Neurobiology). Opioids have equally as many negative effects on the body as marijuana does, therefore making it difficult to see a true better option at this point.
The opioid crisis needs to be stopped but how? That is when medical marijuana swoops in as an alternative and says it can relieve pain too, but does anyone really want to cope with the effects of either of the two. Marijuana could be used for its therapeutic value, but due to a stigma placed on it by the federal government and the few effects we have learned because of the lack of testing people may turn their noses up to the drug (Marijuana benefits). Both of the drugs have potential to put your body in extreme distress, but with serious regulations we might could end the idea of replacing opioids all together. The comparison of these two drugs is vital because the drug you take with chronic pain, could be the drug that ends your life. Understand the adverse effects of these two drugs, or you could be the next person to go into the hospital with chronic pain, get prescribed a pain reliever, and that pain reliever cause more problems than you ever thought possible.
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