The debate heats up between two chemical substances: marijuana and opioids. Which drug is the most dangerous, claims the most lives, and causes the most health issues?
Many people believe that prescription painkillers are more dangerous than marijuana. After all, one needs a prescription from a doctor to get opioid painkillers to use them legally and they are very effective at killing pain. Now, with the legalization of marijuana in many states, opioids have to be more lethal.
President Trump’s administration decided to take a closer look at the laws that concern marijuana.
— David Nelson (@DavidNelsonNews) April 4, 2017
There are two different kinds of marijuana usage, medical and recreational. Doctors prescribe marijuana as a treatment for pain in cancer patients. Marijuana or cannabis has been legalized in many states so people can enjoy their drug of choice as a recreational pastime and not be arrested.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters, “I do believe that you’ll see greater enforcement of [recreational marijuana]. There’s two distinct issues here: medical marijuana and recreational marijuana. I think when you see something like the opioid addiction crisis blossoming in so many states around this country, the last thing we should be doing is encouraging people. The states where [medical marijuana] is allowed, in accordance with the appropriations rider, have set forth a process to administer and regulate that usage, versus recreational marijuana. That’s a very, very different subject.”
To date, 29 states have legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes only and eight states have legalized recreational marijuana. However, federal law classifies marijuana as an illegal substance.
The first difference between marijuana and opioids is in the way the DEA classifies them. Marijuana is listed as a Schedule I drug. According to the website, “Schedule I drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Some examples of Schedule I drugs are: heroin, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), marijuana (cannabis), 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (ecstasy), methaqualone, and peyote.”
Opioids are classified as Schedule II drugs. According to the website, “Schedule II drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with a high potential for abuse, with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence. These drugs are also considered dangerous. Some examples of Schedule II drugs are: Combination products with less than 15 milligrams of hydrocodone per dosage unit (Vicodin), cocaine, methamphetamine, methadone, hydromorphone (Dilaudid), meperidine (Demerol), oxycodone (OxyContin), fentanyl, Dexedrine, Adderall, and Ritalin.”
— MedMjTreatmentClinic (@mmtcfl) April 2, 2017
People have used and abused marijuana and opioids for centuries and both substances can lead to health problems. One key difference between the two drugs is in the number of deaths. There are no known cases of anyone dying from a marijuana overdose. Opioids are the opposite and they have been linked to countless deaths.
Celebrities who have died from an opioid overdose include Prince Rogers Nelson, Michael Baze, Lenny Bruce, Tim Buckley, Chris Farley, Sigmund Freud, and Heath Ledger.
The CDC reported that U.S. doctors write an estimated 259 million opioid prescriptions a year, and since 1999, the number of opioid deaths has quadrupled. It is estimated that 15,000 American people have abused this drug and died, which accounts for almost half of all the overdose deaths in the United States.
Every day, roughly 1,000 Americans are rushed to the emergency room because they consumed too many prescription pills. The tragic number of lives that opioids claim is startling.
Dr. Thomas Strouse, medical director of the Stewart and Lynda Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), believes it is easier to quit smoking marijuana than it is to give up opioids because the withdrawal is more severe. He also thinks that marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug because of historical and political reasons.
“I believe [the drug classifications] should be based on science. It does not make sense to me that cannabis is a Schedule 1 drug.”
The heath risks between marijuana and opioids vary. The American College of Cardiology released a report that said marijuana can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Dr. Thomas Strouse believes people who are heavy marijuana users have a greater risk of psychological disorders and those who are under the age of 25 can damage their developing brain. It has often been thought that young people who use marijuana will fail academically. However, it is not known whether the use of marijuana will lead users to try more harmful drugs.
Medially, marijuana is prescribed to help people with cancer in treating chronic pain and problems associated with chemotherapy like nausea and vomiting.
Opioids are often prescribed because they bring fast pain relief and it can induce a sense of calmness on the patient. The downside of this is that it wears off quickly, and because the body becomes accustomed to it, larger or higher doses are needed to feel that wonderful pain relief and calmness again.
According to Dr. Don Teater, medical adviser at the National Safety Council from 2013 to 2016, “Opioids receptors in our brains work to keep us motivated, confident about getting things done, and energized to do and finish projects. Chronic use of opioids decreases the number of opioids receptors and our own diploids, as the brain quits producing these. We wind up with less motivation, less happiness, and less success. Opioid users have twice the rate of depression as nonusers. The longer you take them, the worse off you’re going to be.”
Dr. Don Teater offers a solution to the problem. “A lot of people are in pain. And social and emotional factors affect pain and how we deal with it. The pain is made worse by poverty, stress at work, depression, and anxiety. People are looking for a killer medicine to fix it. Behavioral therapy is the best solution — get them exercising, improve mental health, reduce catastrophizing — but everyone is given pills.”
Like anything in life, prescription marijuana and opioids are beneficial when they are used as intended. Abuse them, and they will harm your body, and in some cases, claim your life.
Which drug do you believe to be the worst?
[Featured Image by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]