Updated on April 1, 2020. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
The opioid crisis isn’t all about illicit drugs. In fact, addiction often starts with a prescription for a patient in need. More than 350,000 people died from opioid overdose between 1999 and 2016, and many of these cases involved prescription drugs like oxycodone. However, we’ve discovered an alternative to opioids that could help us fight rising addiction rates.
Oxycodone is an opioid available on its own as a generic medication or as part of a branded medication. Generic oxycodone options include liquid solutions, tablets and capsules. Branded options can come in an extended-release form or as a combination with another painkiller.
Oxycodone-based medications are prescribed when a patient already has a tolerance to opioids and is experiencing severe pain that doesn’t respond to other pain medications. The frequency of a medication’s dosage depends on the type of oxycodone.
All oxycodone medicines have similar side effects. Moderate side effects like dry mouth, depression, anxiety and drowsiness cause discomfort, but no long-term danger. But, when they last for a long period or cause extreme discomfort, the user should see a doctor. Oxycodone overdose can happen easily, so symptoms like blue skin, heartbeat changes, breathing problems and seizures require emergency care.
Opioids like oxycodone increase the dopamine activity in our brains, creating pleasurable feelings and encouraging further use. When you take an opioid, your brain becomes flooded with dopamine, the chemical responsible for creating positive feelings. Some patients begin to seek these feelings out and misuse the drug for a more intense high. Using strong opioids like oxycodone recreationally increases the risk of overdose since recreational methods aim to make absorption faster.
Since oxycodone can build up in someone’s system easily, it can create a tolerance or dependence even in patients who take it as directed. These situations cause the patient to need higher doses to feel the same pain relief — and to avoid experiencing symptoms. Naturally, these feelings make the patient more likely to overdose or become addicted.
Despite these dangers, oxycodone is still commonly used for pain relief. Oxycodone caused more than 150,000 visits to the emergency room in 2011. Yet, doctors wrote almost 60 million oxycodone prescriptions in 2013. While oxycodone has enough risks on its own, it can also act as a “gateway drug” to illegal substances. In fact, four out of five heroin users originally abused prescription painkillers.
Cannabis medicine can repair some of the damage to public health the opioid crisis has caused in multiple ways. It helps patients going through chronic pain and addiction, reducing our reliance on oxycodone and other opioids. Advocates and researchers are interested in three of its benefits in particular:
Patients dealing with many issues caused by the opioid epidemic can get effective care with medical marijuana. In some cases, it can completely replace opioid painkillers. Other patients may still need some opioids to get relief. But, they can manage to take lower doses by improving their effect with cannabis medicine.
Research shows that marijuana lets opioids offer more pain relief without raising opioid levels in the blood. When someone uses marijuana medicine for this purpose, they don’t have to worry about cannabis abuse like they would for oxycodone. Patients already addicted to oxycodone can take medical marijuana instead of another opioid to feel fewer cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
To learn more about cannabis medicine for pain or addiction, book an appointment with a marijuana-savvy physician today.
Check out our resources on specific opiates and medical marijuana: