The CDC reports that in 2016, nearly 66% of the 63,632 drug overdose deaths in America were as a result of prescription or illicit opioids.
Getting sober is particularly hard for opiate users because the withdrawal symptoms are sickening and agonizing. Opioid withdrawals can begin just hours after a user consumes their last dose. It takes anywhere from a few weeks to many months to recover from opiate withdrawals, depending on the specific drug that’s used.
This, along with the severity of symptoms, makes quitting opiates extremely challenging. Fortunately, cannabis for opioid withdrawal (especially use of certain cannabinoids like CBD) is suggested as a safer alternative than standard medications and the cold-turkey method, allowing an addict to have a better chance of making it through the detox process without a relapse.
Physical Effects of Opiate Withdrawal
Although opioid withdrawal is not typically life-threatening, it can most definitely feel like it. A couple early indicators of opiate withdrawal include tearing up, excessive yawning, and a runny nose. Though these seem minimal and annoying at best, this is only the beginning of a brutal withdrawal period. Other symptoms that mimic a bad case of the flu will start to creep in.
These include painful muscle aches, intense anxiety, a racing heart beat, inability to sleep, and a profuse sweating that is accompanied by incessant chills. It can seem impossible to get comfortable, as the body’s temperature doesn’t have the ability to regulate itself. Late withdrawal symptoms can include stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and obsessive drug cravings.
The Mental and Emotional Aspect
As if the physical effects of opioid withdrawal aren’t bad enough, the mental anguish that users experience is haunting. The mind seems to be working a million miles a minute and the wheels never seem to stop turning. A person who is withdrawing will experience more intense drug cravings than usual, and these continue for varying periods of time.
These thoughts can be so unbearable that many people are unable to finish detox on their own because they feel as though they have no choice but to get high. The obsessive, anxious thoughts are what drive addicts to do whatever they have to do to get their next fix. Opioid addiction can feel as if it’s far too strong to control.
Depending on what type of opiate the person has been taking and the amount taken, the times and intensity of withdrawal will vary. Either way, the withdrawal period seems to be never ending, and it can make one feel as though they are close to death.
Why Cannabis Helps
Drugs like suboxone and methadone are commonly used in medically assisted opioid withdrawal because they prevent drug cravings and withdrawal symptoms without producing a high. These drugs can be effective when taken for short periods of time, with medical supervision, but when taken for extended amounts of time this treatment for opioid use has a dark side.
Methadone and suboxone are addictive drugs that have the potential for overdose. Many people continue to take these substances and develop both a physical dependence and psychological addiction to them. It simply doesn’t make sense to detox from one addictive and dangerous substance through the use of another.
However, There is evidence that cannabis is an effective tool during opioid withdrawal. Cannabis consumption during opiate withdrawal can help reduce the following symptoms:
- Nausea & vomiting
- Stomach cramps
- Muscle aches
- Cold sweats
The World Health Organization states that the likelihood of developing a dependence on the THC in cannabis is only 9% compared to substances like oxycodone, heroin, suboxone, and methadone, all of which carry an average dependence rate of around 23%. Additionally, cannabis carries many therapeutic and medicinal values, therefore making it a much safer and more effective method of treating opioid withdrawal symptoms.
Although cannabis use is still federally illegal in the United States, many states have made dramatic changes to medical and recreational cannabis laws. In the future, hopefully more and more legislation will allow cannabis to be accessible to those whom it can help. With the deadly opiate epidemic at hand, cannabis can be an essential tool in getting through the withdrawal process without the use of other deadly, addictive drugs.