Updated on March 2, 2020. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
Opioids come in multiple forms, including illegally manufactured drugs and prescriptions. Many prescription opioids can cause patients to become addicted even when used as directed. In other cases, opioids meant only for prescribed patients can easily get onto the illegal market.
No matter how they hook people, prescription opioids like Dilaudid have created an addiction epidemic we can’t ignore.
Dilaudid is a branded medication created with hydromorphone, a semisynthetic opioid, and comes as a tablet, pill, liquid, suppository or injectable medicine. Doctors typically prescribe hydromorphone-based medications to patients who have built a tolerance to other opioids and don’t respond to other painkillers.
The types of pain doctors prescribe Dilaudid for include cancer pain, nerve pain and pain during hospice care. Only patients who need constant, long-term pain relief should receive a prescription for Dilaudid.
During Dilaudid treatment, the patient receives gradually increasing doses instead of a larger one at first, as taking too much of it can result in overdose and death. Typical side effects include dry mouth, depression, drowsiness and muscle pain. A patient should get medical attention if they have side effects like seizures, fainting or difficulty breathing.
Under five percent of patients taking Dilaudid experience intense and frequent itching all over the body. Researchers don’t know the exact cause behind this side effect. Dilaudid itching doesn’t indicate any immediate danger, but it can cause severe discomfort.
Since Dilaudid is stronger than most opioids, it has a higher potential for addiction and appeals to people who are already addicted to opioids. It takes about 10 to 15 minutes for it to take effect, delivering a fast, intense high. Patients can develop a dependence if they experience euphoria or relaxation as a side effect. The risk increases even more if they don’t take their medicine properly.
As hydromorphone use increases throughout the United States, so do overdoses. Hydromorphone drugs like Dilaudid are around five to 10 times stronger than morphine, making the risk of tolerance, dependence and overdose higher. Addicts often misuse Dilaudid in ways that create a more intense high, increasing the risks even further.
Reducing our collective dependence on opioids like Dilaudid for pain relief can help us solve the addiction crisis. It would limit the number of prescription opioids available to illegal users and lower patients’ risk of dependence. But, we still need a medication to allow patients in severe pain to live their lives in comfort. The solution? Medical marijuana.
Cannabis medicine can improve our public health thanks to the substitution effect. The substitution effect lets medical marijuana replace opioids. As Philippe Lucas argues, the substitution effect can help us in three ways:
Interested in more information about medical cannabis as a solution to opioid addiction? Our guide to opioid addiction and medical marijuana outlines how we can use cannabis as part of recovery. For the latest developments related to medical marijuana and the opioid crisis, follow our social media and blog.
Check out our resources on specific opiates and medical marijuana: