Updated on January 28, 2019. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Richard Koffler, MD, Board Certified Physiatrist
When a patient has severe chronic pain and nothing else will relieve it, doctors sometimes prescribe Duragesic, a patch that contains the opioid fentanyl. As one of the most potent opioids, fentanyl can be between 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine. Although physicians prescribe Duragesic sparingly, it can have incredibly adverse effects even for patients who use it as directed.
A dose of Duragesic comes in the form of a patch you apply to the skin that lasts 72 hours. Patients must use extreme caution when taking this drug. Caretakers of patients who can’t think clearly should place the patch on the upper back to ensure they don’t put it in their mouth.
Fentanyl-based medications like Duragesic come with a lengthy list of side effects, too. The mildest adverse effects include:
The worst problems don’t indicate any danger as long as they don’t become severe or chronic. However, if they don’t go away or cause major discomfort, you should get medical attention. These effects include:
Like any form of fentanyl, Duragesic has a high potential for dependence and addiction. As a prescription medication, most patients don’t think they could get addicted to Duragesic. However, a patient can build tolerance and dependence to the point of going through withdrawal symptoms.
When people abuse fentanyl patches, they tend to use it in ways their doctor did not prescribe. They can put multiple patches on their body at one time to get a stronger “high.” Or, they could cut the patch open and inject, smoke or ingest the gel inside.
Fentanyl and other opioids have caused a health crisis that we can’t ignore. Out of all deaths in 2016 related to prescription drug abuse, fentanyl caused more overdoses than any other. In fact, fentanyl and drugs similar to it doubled between 2015 and 2016. It leads other addictive prescriptions in the trend reducing Americans’ life expectancy for the first time in decades.
Fortunately, we have a useful ally in the fight against fentanyl addiction: medical marijuana. Cannabis medicine has painkilling properties and a low risk of dependence that can reduce or eliminate a patient’s need to take opioids. Patients usually take fentanyl after building a high tolerance to other opioids. Treatment with cannabis medicine can supplement or replace opioid painkillers, letting a patient take less of the harmful substance.
When someone becomes addicted to fentanyl, medicinal marijuana can also make recovery more effective. Cannabis targets similar areas of the brain to opioids, but it doesn’t have the addiction potential and harmful side effects that come from opioids. So, the patient can experience fewer withdrawal symptoms and cravings without the risks of using opioids to relieve them.
The research we have so far regarding the use of cannabis to supplement opioids for pain treatment looks promising. For example, one study examined the effects of a combination treatment of opioids like fentanyl with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a component of marijuana. When taken with THC, stronger opioids like fentanyl were more effective with smaller doses.
If you’re interested in learning more about medical marijuana for pain or addiction treatment, get in touch with a marijuana-trained doctor in your area.
Check out our resources on specific opiates and medical marijuana: