When welcoming new patients to the dispensary, we hear countless stories about the health challenges they’ve faced. Our patients have experienced a wide range of symptoms and conditions, but there’s one thing they have in common: other treatment options didn’t provide the relief they needed. In particular, patients who’ve been prescribed powerful opioid medications are often desperate for better options:
Sullivan, who suffers from arthritis and nerve and muscle pain, takes a capsule at night, two or three times a week. It makes her feels sleepy and relaxed, “sometimes a little giggly,” she said. And almost pain-free. The next day, her pain returns but is significantly milder than it would be otherwise.
Sullivan turned to cannabis because the opioid her doctor prescribed — tramadol — gave her insomnia. Others are trying marijuana because their doctors, worried about new guidelines on opioid use, have cut back on prescribing pain relievers.
Dr. Uma Dhanabalan, a Natick family practice physician who specializes in assessing patients for marijuana certification, said she has lately seen an increase in pain sufferers looking for an alternative to opioids.
“Cannabis is not an entrance drug, it is an exit drug from pharmaceuticals and narcotics,” she said. [Boston Globe]
Once viewed as a possible gateway to the use of more harmful substances, marijuana is now emerging instead as a promising alternative to the dangerous drugs often prescribed to patients in severe pain. Recent data show that opioid overdose deaths have fallen in states with medical marijuana laws, suggesting that regulated dispensaries may do more than just help patients relieve pain; they could actually be saving lives.
Indeed, the risk of developing dependency, the prevalence of debilitating side effects, and especially the threat of a fatal overdose are concerns our patients communicate to us every day in explaining why they’ve chosen cannabis as an alternative. Sadly, the limited options available for treating serious chronic pain have often forced patients to choose between living with unbearable symptoms, or adopting a regimen of medications whose side effects disrupt their ability to perform basic tasks and enjoy their lives. Many have discovered that medical cannabis provides a middle ground, in which pain can be reduced while maintaining a mental and physical state that allows them to be comfortable, alert, and productive.
To fully understand and appreciate medical marijuana’s importance to the patients who need it most, one must recognize that every individual’s situation is unique to them. Two patients with a similar diagnosis may experience differing symptoms. A patient whose condition is easily treated in most cases may be allergic to conventional therapies or possess a second diagnosis that creates complications. It is a simple truth that patients and their doctors are best positioned to make critical health decisions in difficult circumstances. That so many are turning to medical marijuana and reporting profoundly positive outcomes gives us great hope for those who’ve too often suffered in silence.