MO opioid replacement program

Missouri Opioid Replacement Program

  • Can medical marijuana replace opioids for the treatment of pain?

  • Comparing the efficacy and safety of opioids versus medical marijuana.

  • Evidence shows that opioid use is dropping in states with medical Marijuana programs.

  • There is a strong argument for medical professionals recommending medical marijuana to treat opioid addiction

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One of the qualifying conditions for obtaining a Missouri medical marijuana card is not actually a disease — but it can lead to a disease. The use of opioids to treat pain can lead to drug addiction, severe side effects, and potentially death. Now, in increasing numbers, Missouri medical marijuana doctors are recommending patients use medical marijuana to treat pain rather than prescribing opioids, or as an adjunct to opioids. As a result, opioid use is falling in Missouri. And along with it, so too are the number of Missourians who are addicted to opioids and dying as a result of opioid abuse.

Along with a list of qualifying medical conditions, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services lists opioid replacement as a condition for obtaining medical marijuana in Missouri. The bullet point reads thus:

“A chronic medical condition that is normally treated with prescription medications that could lead to physical or psychological dependence when a physician determines that medical use of marijuana could be effective in treating that condition and would serve as a safer alternative to the prescription medication” 

Since the inauguration of the Missouri Medical Marijuana program, more than 65,000 medical marijuana card applications have been approved. In addition to patient certification, licenses have been awarded to 192 medical marijuana dispensaries in Missouri, as well as five cultivation sites, and one testing lab.

What effect is the medical marijuana program having on opioid use in Missouri?

Can Medical Marijuana Replace Opioids For Pain?

Anecdotal and scientific research data appear to be in alignment when it comes to the efficacy of medical marijuana in lieu of prescription opioids for the treatment of acute and chronic pain. 

We’re not going to get into the mechanisms by which medical marijuana reduces pain in this article. Readers can learn more about using medical marijuana for pain here. What we will point out, however, is that in states where medical marijuana is being used to treat pain, the number of prescriptions for opioids is falling. This should be some indication as to how many patients are finding relief from pain with medical marijuana.  

Drug overdoses, sadly, are a leading cause of fatalities in the U.S. And, shockingly, opioids are responsible for 68 percent of drug overdose deaths. However, in states where medical marijuana is readily available, statistics indicate a reduction of 3.742 million daily opioid doses. Moreover, according to statistics in states where cultivation is permitted, there were 1.792 million fewer daily doses.

Columbia University’s Irving Medical Center also recently published the findings of a study based on states with active medical marijuana programs. They reported nearly 20 percent reductions in opioid addiction in the marijuana-friendly states when compared to states with ongoing prohibition. The report highlighted the importance of reducing opioid use and the provision of pain management alternatives such as medical marijuana.

Older research from a 2014 study published in the Journal of American Medicine Association (JAMA), reported a 25 percent lower opioid overdose rate in states with medical marijuana programs.

A publication from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported:

“Although our study does not support a direct causal relationship, these population-level findings show that legalization of medical cannabis and patient access to dispensaries may be associated with reductions in opioid prescribing by orthopedic surgeons The observed trends reported in this study may be a reflection of the growing availability of alternative pain management options for patients.”

The University of Georgia, Athens, too, recently published a report on opiate usage statistics in marijuana-friendly states and concluded: 

“Medical cannabis laws are associated with significant reductions in opioid prescribing in the Medicare Part D population. This finding was particularly strong in states that permit dispensaries, and for reductions in hydrocodone and morphine prescriptions.”

The University of Kentucky and Emory University after a recent study reported:

“Marijuana is one of the potential nonopioid alternatives that can relieve pain at a relatively lower risk of addiction and virtually no risk of overdose… and have the potential to lower opioid prescribing for Medicaid enrollees, a high-risk population for chronic pain, opioid use disorder, and opioid overdose… Marijuana liberalization may serve as a component of a comprehensive package to tackle the opioid epidemic.”

The statistics don’t lie. States with medical marijuana programs are reporting that a large percentage of patients with acute and chronic pain are successfully using marijuana as an alternative to opioids.

Can Medical Marijuana Help Treat Opioid Addiction?

Not only is medical marijuana widely known for its ability to reduce anxiety, depression, nausea, and seizures, it has also been shown to reduce cravings in opioid addicts. 

Opioids stimulate opioid receptors in the brain flooding the brain with dopamine. This increased dopamine levels result in feelings of euphoria. When the substance is used frequently, the reward circuits are ultimately overstimulated and addiction can result.

Patients suffering from opioid withdrawal often experience strong cravings, high anxiety, depression, fatigue and lethargy, sweating, shaking, and vomiting. In the worst cases, withdrawal can induce seizures and hallucinations.

THC, the intoxicating cannabinoid compound in marijuana, is known to reduce nausea and pain and improve overall mood, all of which are of benefit to opioid addicts. However, high-CBD medical marijuana strains, in particular, have been shown to actually reduce cravings by modulating the brain’s reward circuits.

Is Medical Marijuana Safe?

Is medical marijuana a safe and effective alternative to opioids for treating pain?

The fact of the matter is, as we mentioned, opioids are responsible for two-thirds of drug overdose deaths in the U.S. On the other hand, the National Academy of Sciences’ has published over 10,000 scientific abstracts detailing the safety and efficacy of medical marihuana. In all of those reports, there is not one single mention of a marijuana overdose.

To put it another way, In 2015, there were more than 30,000 opioid-related fatalities, By 2017 that number had more than doubled to 70,000. In that time frame, not one death from marijuana was reported. 

The message is loud and clear. Those numbers speak volumes. For many patients, medical marijuana is a far safer alternative to opioids for the treatment of pain.

How To Get a Missouri Medical Marijuana Card

The first step in procuring a medical marijuana card is to talk to a Missouri medical marijuana doctor and see if the patient qualifies. Once a patient has been approved they can apply with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. Within 30 days of applying, you should receive your medical marijuana card in the mail. 

Or…Simply fill out the patient registration form, press submit, and your on your way to visit with a doctor online face to face. Click below to get started.

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