Marijuana-Based Painkillers Could Be The Answer To Nation's Opioid Addiction

With the opioid overdose epidemic gripping the nation, more and more drug companies are aggressively trying to develop alternative treatments for pain. One particular possibility has both drugmakers and patients excited – marijuana-based painkillers.

In the U.S., health experts estimate over 100 million people are addicted to some form of prescription painkiller or illegal opioid like heroin. Data provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed nearly 33,000 Americans died of an opioid overdose in 2015, and the number is expected to increase. Also that same year, heroin deaths surpassed the number of gun-related fatalities for the first time ever.

While the opioid addiction crisis continues to grow with no sign of slowing, drug makers are hoping the development of a non-addictive painkiller based on cannabis can be a potential solution. According to various studies, the number of opioid overdose deaths in states with legalized medical marijuana is significantly lower than in states where the plant remains illegal. Additionally, no marijuana overdose deaths have ever been reported.

However, the drug companies actively pursuing the development of a marijuana-based painkiller have one colossal and monstrous hurdle to overcome before bringing the new treatment to market – the federal government. Currently, the U.S. government, specifically the Drug Enforcement Administration, considers cannabis a Schedule I drug. In the eyes of several federal agencies, this classification means marijuana has no medical value and is as deadly as heroin.

Medical marijuana may be the solution to the current opioid addiction epidemic.
To help fight opioid addiction, several drug companies are working on painkillers based on medical marijuana. [Image by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]

Notwithstanding, companies like Axim Biotechnologies, Nemus Bioscience, and Intec Pharma continue to pour time and money into developing a marijuana-based painkiller. As more and more states approve medical marijuana and pressure from advocacy groups continues to push for national cannabis legislation, these companies see a huge potential windfall in the future.

Drugs to treat pain based on marijuana are years away from approval.
Until the federal government takes cannabis off the Schedule I drug list, a marijuana-based painkiller will be hard to get approved. [Image by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]

Another impending roadblock for an approved painkiller made from cannabis is the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Even in states where medical marijuana is legal, the FDA still has to review and approve any marijuana-derived drug. With cannabis illegal at the federal level, more comprehensive and stringent testing would be required. Most analysts think it would take at least 10 years before an FDA-approved drug based on marijuana would ever be available to patients.

At present, millions of people suffering from daily chronic pain must either take the chance on an opioid painkiller that might trap them into addiction or find an alternative, yet legal, natural supplement like kratom. Not wanting to wait for FDA approval, other companies like Pfizer and Biogen are working on their own non-opioid painkiller alternatives, which are likely to be available much sooner than a marijuana-based painkiller.

[Featured Image by David McNew/Getty Images]