top of page
  • Hammond Lewis

Replacing Opioids with Medical Marijuana for Treating Chronic Pain

replacing opioids with medical marijuana for treating chronic pain

Georgia medical marijuana patients are qualified by the state to use cannabis as medicine, but cannabis may not be the first prescription someone with a medical marijuana card is prescribed. Opioids are commonly prescribed for many of the conditions on the Georgia medical marijuana list, and they are frequently prescribed for pain relief.

But opioids are responsible for nearly two-thirds of overdose deaths in Georgia, and rates of overdose in the country are growing at a very dangerous pace.

Patients, scientists, and doctors have all looked at medical marijuana as an alternative to opioid medications, and in this article we’ll cover everything you need to know about cannabis and opioids.

What are Opioids?

Opioids are a family of pain relievers that are based on the opium poppy plant.

The opioid family includes some familiar names such as oxycodone, fentanyl, oxycontin, morphine, as well as heroin.

Opioids are notable for their efficacy with pain relief, high potential for abuse, and dangerous consequences if misused.

Opioids have been used medically and recreationally for nearly 250 years in the United States, and are regarded as one of the most effective, and most dangerous types of medications.

They are typically prescribed to act as pain-blockers by activating opioid receptors on nerve cells in your body, an important function inside the central nervous system.

How do Opioids Work?

Your body actually produces its own endogenous opioids, or naturally occurring opioids.

These endogenous opioids work similarly to chemical opioids, although the naturally occurring opioids seem to work on the inside and outside of cells, while prescription opioids appear to have some difficulty working inside the cell.

This is thought to potentially be one of the reasons why prescription opioids are addictive, while their naturally occurring counterparts are not. Chemical opioids can also have unpleasant side effects that the endogenous opioids do not produce, like withdrawal symptoms and dependency.

The central nervous system has innumerable connections that require communication between them to modulate pain, regulate mood or appetite, and produce endorphins as well as a host of other functions.

The role of endogenous opioids is to facilitate the job of specific receptors when they are needed by the central nervous system, either to produce endorphins, enkephalins, or dynorphins.

This process is what helps modulate pain management, and the release of endorphins is particularly relevant to prescription opioids, as it is one of the biggest reasons for their high potential for abuse.

Why are Opioids Dangerous?

The process of opioids causing the release of endorphins is not inherently bad.

Overproduction, dependence, and receptor inhibition are the characteristics of opioids that make them dangerous.

When your body produces endogenous opioids, it is on an as-needed basis biologically. Your central nervous system helps regulate when they should be produced, where they should go, and how often they should go there.

When introducing chemical opioids, the endogenous system is cut off and replaced by the prescription medication, so the biological protocols are entirely at the helm of the pharmaceutical opioid now.

This process can severely affect the brain’s reward system, reduce endogenous opioid production, create drug dependence, and can often require heavy withdrawal symptoms to cease use.

Is Medical Marijuana an Alternative to Opioids?

Yes, it can be.

Opioids and cannabis actually share some similarities, although they work entirely differently.

They both utilize receptors on cells in the central nervous system, they are both used medically to treat pain, and they both can produce feelings of euphoria.

Although how they go about that job, and how volatile that job is on our bodies couldn’t be more different, the basic functions regarding pain management can be comparable anecdotally.

The main differences between cannabis and opioids in the conversation of pain management are in withdrawals, dependency, side effects, and the potential for physical harm and even death.

While opioids have proven over time to cause all of these harmful problems, cannabis has not been conclusively linked to any of them.

In fact, treatment plans for opioids often include a withdrawal phase or detox stage, where additional medications are prescribed to help lessen the withdrawal symptoms.

Early studies even suggest that cannabis could play a role in the detox stage for opioid users, potentially promoting a smoother withdrawal period.

Because cannabis is used effectively for pain management and does not share these inherently dangerous problems, it is often used as an alternative to opioids for pain management.

Can Medical Marijuana Help Reduce Opioid Use?


Numerous studies have consistently shown that cannabis has high potential for reducing opioid use.

Data also concludes that when access to medical marijuana becomes available, opioid related deaths appear to go down significantly.

Studies also suggest that cannabis has the potential to help wean heavy opioid users off prescription medications, a job that is otherwise required by more volatile pharmaceutical drugs like suboxone or methadone, which both have their own potential for abuse.

Research is leaning heavily that cannabis has an important role to play as an alternative to opioids or to help reduce the potential for opioid abuse.

The data is becoming strong enough that even the state of New York added opioid use as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana.

Cannabis has been used for thousands of years for a variety of medical reasons, and pain management has been at the top of the list for a very long time.

Without the unfortunate side effects, dangerous complications of abuse, and withdrawal symptoms, medical marijuana has shown a promising place in the role of reducing and preventing opioid use and abuse.

The United States is in the midst of an opioid overdose epidemic that claimed the lives of nearly 50,000 people in 2019, a number that more than doubled since 2010.

There are encouraging signs that those numbers could be reduced if medical marijuana were used as an alternative to opioids more commonly.

Because Georgia considers intractable pain a qualifying condition for medical marijuana, patients have the opportunity to incorporate medical marijuana into a treatment plan as an alternative to opioids, or to treat opioid abuse.

Get Your Georgia Marijuana Card

As a Georgia marijuana patient, you can legally purchase up to 20 ounces of low THC cannabis oil. For Georgians, this means getting the relief you need naturally and organically, and Georgia Marijuana Card is here to help.

Reserve your appointment today and get $25 off when we start processing applications!

Feel free to give us a call at (866) 781-5606, and we can help answer your questions about getting medical marijuana in Georgia


Doctors Who Care. Relief You Can Trust.

Helping everyone achieve wellness safely and conveniently through increased access to medical marijuana. Our focus on education, inclusion, and acceptance will reduce stigma for our patients by providing equal access to timely information and compassionate care.

Call us at (866) 781-5606, or simply book a medical marijuana evaluation to start getting relief you can trust today!

Check out Georgia Marijuana Card’s Blog to keep up to date on the latest medical marijuana news, tips, and information. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to join the medical marijuana conversation in Georgia.

34 views0 comments


bottom of page