Fentanyl & Cannabis: How Legal Cannabis Can Help Battle Canada’s Opioid Crisis
Aug 14, 2018 Education
Last year, the Canadian Institute for Health Information came up with alarming statistics regarding the use of opioids among Canadians. According to the CHI, 16 Canadians were sent to the hospital per day during 2016-2017. The study further proved that smaller cities had the highest rate of hospitalization and that opioid overdoses accounted for more than 2,800 deaths in 2016 alone.
One major reason for this surge in opioid-related deaths is the widespread use of Fentanyl, a drug that is considerably more potent than heroin and morphine, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Dealers obtain their product by secret labs, whose product is significantly less pure than pharmaceutical-grade opioids. Although both drugs look similar, a lethal dose of Fentanyl is only a fraction of a lethal dose of heroin. Unfortunately, the two of them are often mixed together, leading to unpredictable results for users.
Fentanyl and Heroin: A Deadly Duo
Fentanyl’s original use was as an anesthetic due to its high effectiveness at relieving painful symptoms. Indeed, when used by licensed medical professionals, pharmaceutical-grade Fentanyl is valuable medicine. The problem is, its chemical structure is far more dangerous than morphine and heroin and street pushers don’t know how to handle it properly.
Both heroin and Fentanyl react with the corresponding mu-opioid receptors in the human brain. However, Fentanyl’s effect is almost instantaneous and extremely more potent, as it is ingested through body (and brain) fat. Although Fentanyl is deadlier, they both look the same. “You don’t know what you’re taking,” stated Tim Pifer, the director of the New Hampshire State Police Forensic Laboratory. “You’re injecting yourself with a loaded gun.”
Cannabis Legalization in Canada: An Alternative Solution
Emerging studies have shown that legalization of cannabis can play a major part in fighting Canada’s opioid epidemic. According to Philippe Lucas’ research that was published online in the Harm Reduction Journal, “U.S. states with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8% lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate” than ones without.
The study also states that “Canada may be particularly well positioned to implement these proposed interventions because of a long-standing federally regulated medical cannabis program that currently serves over 150,000 Canadians with physician support for medical cannabis.”
Lucas also suggests here that patients shouldn’t be forced into opioids without prior experimentation with alternative forms of treatment. “If physicians start recommending the use of medical cannabis prior to introducing patients to opioids,” said Lucas, “patients that find cannabis to be a successful treatment for their chronic pain might never have to walk down the very tricky path of opioid use.”
Contrary to opioids, cannabis use does not build tolerance and does not lead to physical dependency. That can also be helpful for patients and users that are susceptible to overdoses. According to Lucas, “when people with an opioid dependency fail out of treatment, that’s the period where they become the most vulnerable to potential overdose.”
As things stand right now, opioids are the first choice for patients in Canada and the US, while cannabinoid-based solutions are considered only in very specific cases. With Canada ready for full cannabis legalization by July 2018, it is important to learn from past mistakes and realize that cannabis is one of our more powerful weapons against this opioid crisis.
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