Suffering from chronic pain? Opioids represent some of the most powerful painkillers known to science, but they come with a host of side-effects and they are physically and psychologically addictive. On the other hand, cannabinoids seem to be generally safe, but many doctors still dispute their efficacy.
People have been using both opium and cannabis for medicine and pain management for millennia. But what does science has to say about them in the modern era?
Today, cannabinoid prescriptions are rising, but opioids are still the go-to choice for most doctors. So, what is the best approach to managing chronic pain? Read on to learn more about the difference between cannabinoids and opioids.
The term cannabinoid refers to chemical substances that bind to the cannabinoid receptors in the body. Cannabinoids got their name from cannabis, since the plant of cannabis produces more than a hundred different cannabinoids.
The cannabinoid receptors in our brains regulate multiple bodily functions, including metabolism and the perception of pain. This means that cannabinoids have the power to alter the state of our bodies when they bind to those receptors.
Cannabinoids from the plant of cannabis are known as phytocannabinoids and are responsible for the plant’s medicinal and recreational properties. THC is the most abundant cannabinoid in cannabis. It is also the single cause for the plant’s psychoactive properties.
The second most abundant cannabinoid is CBD. CBD, also known as cannabidiol, has no psychoactive properties and is generally regarded as safe.
The Properties of CBD
CBD is thought to have numerous beneficial properties. Studies suggest that CBD has analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties. In 2018, the FDA approved the first drug made of CBD to treat severe forms of epilepsy.
Today, there are hundreds of different CBD supplements people take to relieve their pain. CBD is not a controlled substance, so you don’t need a prescription. However, your doctor may recommend CBD as a supplementary treatment for chronic pain.
There are numerous anecdotal reports that CBD helps people with chronic pain, including arthritis and cancer-related pain. Many states, including California, are already recommending medical cannabis for several chronic medical conditions. Since CBD accounts for much of medical marijuana’s medicinal properties, the correlation is strong.
However, the verdict is still out on the efficacy of CBD against chronic pain. This is a new and exciting field of research, but some doctors are reserved until they see more clinical studies.
Opioids represent the most powerful narcotic pain medication. While regular painkillers are fine for most common aches, doctors will prescribe opioids for serious pain. These are strong drugs with proven painkilling effects.
However, opioids also come with a lot of side effects and always carry the risk of addiction. Opioids affect the brain directly. They bind to the opioid receptors in the brain, telling your body you are not in pain.
Some of the most common opioid drugs include:
There are also several illegal opioids, with heroin being the most well-known and dangerous of all. Most opioids are synthesized in labs. In the past, opium was made out of opium poppies and was used both has a recreational drug and a medicine.
The Properties of Opioids
The most well-known property of opioids is their ability to block pain. All legal opioids are prescription drugs, so you will need your doctor’s approval before you start taking opioids.
In addition to pain relief, opioids come with several side effects. The most common side effects include:
- Opioid tolerance
- Opioid addiction
From the above, tolerance and addiction go hand in hand, making opioids dangerous for people who continue to use them beyond their prescription.
With tolerance, patients find they need more of the same drug to relieve their pain. This is dangerous and can lead to addiction.
When addicted to an opioid, you experience severe pains when you are not using the drug. You also develop certain symptoms if you stop taking the drug or if you delay your dose. These include:
- Heart problems
This makes it obvious that opioids can be dangerous if you are not meticulous with your dosage. People who don’t follow their doctor’s orders might develop an opioid addiction with severe consequences.
The Crucial Difference Between Cannabinoids and Opioids for Chronic Pain
As we have seen above, opioids are highly effective, but also highly addictive. On the other hand, cannabinoids are generally a lot safer, but their use as painkillers is still very new and undocumented.
While 46 people die every day from prescription opioid overdose, there are no documented cases of people dying from a cannabinoid overdose. Today, more and more doctors still prescribe opioids, but they also recommend CBD supplements to support the treatment.
As cannabinoid products for pain relief are still not approved by FDA, they can only be used in conjunction with regular painkilling medication right now. However, scientists are hard at work trying to unlock the secrets of cannabinoids, so an FDA-approved cannabinoid drug might get approval sooner or later.
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