Is Using Marijuana For Pain Relief a Safer Alternative Than Opioids?

When someone is battling chronic or acute pain, they are often prescribed addictive opioids when using marijuana for pain relief may be a safer alternative.

Opioid epidemic

6698540291_20f5b96c81_zAccording to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose” and unfortunately, “opioid-involved deaths continue to increase in the United States.” The CDC also stated that “deaths from prescription opioids-drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone-have more than quadrupled since 1999”. This may be due to the fact that “since 1999, the amount of prescription opioids sold in the U.S. nearly quadrupled [even though] there has not been an overall change in the amount of pain that Americans report.“ So why do doctors continue to mass prescribe dangerously addictive and obviously overused opioids to help their patients manage pain?

Marijuana for pain relief

Opioids continue to be used to handle pain because there isn’t much out there that can replace them….legally. Medical marijuana has been tested repeatedly and consistently proves to be beneficial in reducing discomfort for those individuals who struggle with chronic pain. It is also being studied for use in acute pain episodes with positive results. Even though using marijuana for pain relief has been proven to be a successful alternative option that is natural and far safer than opioids, not all U.S. citizens have access to it since several states still consider marijuana an illegal substance. Some states such as Utah go as far to label it a schedule I drug along with methamphetamine and cocaine.

Marijuana use around the nation

Photo by: Satish Krishnamurthy

Photo by: Satish Krishnamurthy

Over the last several years, 26 states as well as Washington D.C. have come to the realization that marijuana isn’t as dangerous as once believed and has proven qualities in fighting chronic and acute pain. Those 26 states and Washington D.C. have all legalized marijuana for medical use. Seven of those states along with D.C. also allow their residents to use marijuana recreationally, just as all states do with alcohol. When will the other states including Utah get on board and legalize marijuana at least for medical use?

Medical marijuana in Utah

There were two bills regarding medical marijuana that Utah lawmakers were working on but unfortunately, only one bill passed and it doesn’t do anything to help those struggling with pain. House Bill 130 that allows medical marijuana to be researched passed the Utah State Legislature, but marijuana has already been researched for medical use; it is time to give pain sufferers in Utah another option besides prescription opioids. Some Utah residents who are frustrated with Utah lawmakers dragging their feet allowing marijuana for pain relief end up taking matters into their own hands. They may cross state lines to take advantage of neighboring states’ leniency towards marijuana only to be busted once they return to Utah with marijuana in their possession or simply in their system. Their attempt to find something else besides opioids to manage pain may land them in jail.

Criminal penalties

Photo by: Victor

Photo by: Victor

Utah law currently prohibits the possession of marijuana and Utah residents are not even allowed to have it in their system when driving. Marijuana metabolites can stay in the system for up to four weeks which makes it impossible for residents to find relief in other states before driving home to Utah. Possession of less than one ounce of marijuana may result in a fine up to $1,000 and the individual charged being incarcerated for up to 6 months.These same charges apply to driving with a measurable amount of marijuana or metabolite of marijuana in the person’s body. Possession of greater quantities or repeat offense may result in greater charges. This may seem unfair for those using marijuana for pain relief, but it is still Utah law.For more information on criminal charges for using marijuana for pain relief, contact a criminal defense attorney.

Legalized Marijuana is Taxable Marijuana

As neighboring states change their restrictions on marijuana by permitting all uses of the plant, the financial payback of legalized marijuana is becoming apparent as the decriminalized “drug” is now taxable. With medical and now financial benefits recognized, why does marijuana continue to be prohibited in states such as Utah and why was it outlawed in the first place?

Criminalization of “marihuana”

Photo by: Christian Frausto Bernal

Photo by: Christian Frausto Bernal

By the early 1930’s several states had criminalized marijuana due to racial prejudices against Mexico. In 1937 the U.S. as a nation jumped on board outlawing marijuana starting with the Marihuana Tax Act. Although racial prejudice was likely still an issue (note the Mexican spelling “marihuana” was used) it was said to be outlawed nationally for fear that it made people crazy and violent. In the last 80 years it has been determined that deranged tendencies are possible with or without the use of marijuana, yet marijuana use continues to be illegal in many states.

Slow progress for legalized marijuana

Currently, only four states including the nation’s capital permit recreational use of marijuana with 20 more states allowing full use of the plant for medical use only. Other states have either lessened their possession laws or now allow medical use of cannabis extracts as long as they are free of the psychoactive ingredients of the plant. Those remaining states that are hesitant to legalize any marijuana use include Utah where simple possession of marijuana can come with a 6 month stint in jail.

Health risks?

Photo by: ashton

Photo by: ashton

The main excuse used by states for keeping marijuana illegal is because of the temporary high that users can experience from THC, the plant’s psychoactive ingredient. This high can result in:

• Sluggish coordination
• Memory difficulty
• Red eyes
• Elevated heart rate
• Dry mouth
• An increased need to snack

All these effects typically dissipate within a few hours of “getting high”. There are also a few concerns of possible long term health risks associated with marijuana use including:

• Long term cognitive impairment (only when used by teenagers)
• Lung irritations or infections (Similar with inhaling any type of smoke)
• Potential dependency (as with any “feel-good” substance- alcohol and chocolate included)

Health benefits

Contrary to the small handful of health risks, marijuana an array of proven benefits for those suffering with medical conditions such as:

• Seizures and epilepsy
• MS
• Cancer
• HIV and AIDS
• Glaucoma
• Wasting syndrome

Decreased health risks and increased health benefits haven’t been enough to encourage all states to legalize marijuana so far, but what about the possibility for financial gain?

Tobacco and alcohol tax

Photo by: 401kcalculator.org

Photo by: 401kcalculator.org

Tobacco and alcohol are both substances that are known to be harmful and extremely addictive yet are 100% lawful once a person reaches a designated age. One of the main reasons for leniency towards tobacco and alcohol is likely due to the tax revenue they generate. Tobacco products such as cigarettes have an average tax of $1 dollar per pack, resulting in millions of dollars going into each state’s pockets annually. Alcohol taxes also contribute to every state in the sum of additional millions each year. With money in hand, many states including Utah throw a small percentage of the money generated at education and prevention of tobacco and alcohol use yet actually turn a blind eye on the health risks by keeping them legal. When will they do the same for marijuana which has far fewer complications?

Marijuana tax

States that have legalized marijuana have imposed taxes on it, and are already reaping the financial benefits.

• Colorado alone collecting over $130 million in taxes in 2015 from the nearly $1 billion dollars’ worth of marijuana sold.

• Oregon made $3.5 million on marijuana taxes in one month alone.

• Washington State is projected to make nearly $350 million on marijuana taxes annually by 2018.

Utah and other states that continue to criminalize marijuana are not only missing out on a massive taxable opportunity, they are losing money by arresting, prosecuting, and jailing those arrested for simple marijuana charges.

Until then…

Legalized Marijuana

Photo by: Satish Krishnamurthy

Money speaks loudly, and it is just a matter of time before the cost of housing inmates for pot charges along with the possible tax revenue from legalized marijuana calls to Utah loud enough for the state’s marijuana laws to be lifted entirely. Until then, small changes are hopefully on the horizon to lessen penalties for simple possession and remove the restrictions for medical marijuana use.

Medical Marijuana in Utah

The acceptance of medical marijuana as a viable option for treatment of several diseases and illnesses is increasing around the nation, yet some states such as Utah are still not sold on allowing complete use of the herb for medical use because of the psychoactive high that can accompany it.

Observed side effects

Medical Marijuana

Photo by: Chuck Grimmet

Medical marijuana has been a hot topic of studies for decades and there have been observed health benefits for those suffering many ailments. While some components of medical marijuana are gaining favor in the health field, one questionable side effect continues to be difficult for experts to ignore. What is likely deterring law makers from completely legalizing medical marijuana use in Utah is the psychoactive “high” that is often accompanied by red eyes, dry mouth, decreased cognitive function, and an amplified desire for food (otherwise known as the munchies).

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)

There are two different chemicals in marijuana that have medicinal uses. THC or tetrahydrocannabinol is the chemical in marijuana that gives users a “high” yet this same chemical that causes a temporary high has been shown to be highly effective at relieving symptoms for those suffering with:
• Chronic pain
• Asthma
• Insomnia
• Glaucoma
• Arthritis
• Lupus, and
• Decreased appetite
Even though THC has been proven to be extremely beneficial in the medical field, law makers in Utah have yet to allow its use due to the psychoactive properties. This can be frustrating for many sufferers of the above ailments, yet fortunately not all uses of medical marijuana are banned in Utah.

Cannabidiol (CBD)

Photo by: James Pallinsad

Photo by: James Pallinsad

The second chemical found in medical marijuana is cannabidiol or CBD which does not produce a high, yet is still successful at helping those suffering from:
• Autism
• Anxiety
• Multiple Sclerosis
• Schizophrenia
• Epilepsy, and
• Dravet’s syndrome
Combined with THC, CBD may also be used for those struggling with:
• IBD or Crohn’s disease
• PTSD
• Muscle spasms and tension, and
• Nausea
Currently, Utah’s medical marijuana laws only allow individuals with severe epilepsy to legally use the non-psychoactive CBD extract after first procuring it from a different state. Those suffering with chronic pain or other ailments continue to be disappointed with Utah’s strict laws on medical marijuana, however there is hope on the horizon for allowance of CBD for other ailments as well as the medical use for THC.

Possible change in store for Utah’s medical marijuana laws

After a lack of funds caused bills legalizing medical marijuana to die before ever reaching a vote, One Utah lawmaker, Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville is planning on sponsoring a bill that allows the use of medical marijuana for a wider range of illnesses which would allow strains containing both CBD and THC chemicals to be used. In case Froerer’s bill doesn’t pass, other legislative leaders are working to put a new initiative on the 2018 ballot while ensuring there is funding to support such an initiative.

Will Utah relax its stance on medical marijuana?

Photo by: David Trawin

Photo by: David Trawin

Currently, 25 states along with the nation’s capital allow the full use of both chemicals in marijuana to be used for medical reasons with a doctor’s prescription. In time there is hope that the remainder of the states will relax their stances regarding the use of marijuana to medical purposes. Until then, Utah residents are warned to refrain from possessing marijuana or visiting neighboring states which may have more lenient laws regarding marijuana use. Utah continues to carry strict penalties for simple possession of marijuana along with charges for individuals traveling from other lenient states with marijuana in their system. For more information on crimes related to marijuana use for medicinal and recreation use, contact a criminal defense attorney.