Across the United States, prescription opioids are responsible for a sharp uptick in deaths. Misuse of prescription drugs like Oxycontin, fentanyl, and other powerful drugs has led to over 30,000 overdose deaths a year. Because physicians have begun to limit the prescriptions they write for opioid drugs in order to reduce deaths, patients have turned to street versions like heroin or illegally-obtained prescriptions for relief. Alternative pain-relieving medications like non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS) have also been linked to a rise in hospitalizations and deaths in the U.S.

Medical marijuana may represent a safer alternative to traditional prescription drugs, however. In several medical research studies, the active compounds in marijuana, known as cannabinoids, show great promise in helping to alleviate symptoms associated with chronic pain. An analysis of research studies conducted by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine also showed that short-term uses of medical marijuana led to substantial pain relief in patients, especially those struggling with the chronic pain of muscle spasms, multiple sclerosis, cancer, and many other disorders. As a result, medical marijuana has been legalized for use in 28 states. Several other U.S. states have legalized cannabidiol (CBD), the non-psychoactive cannabinoid compound that may be beneficial in treating pain and epilepsy in patients.

Medical professionals struggle to stem the tide of opioid deaths, and more are turning to safer alternatives like medical marijuana products. Publications and medical studies reinforce that the use of cannabis may decrease the use of prescription painkillers and reduce complications arising from NSAID use. Cannabis used for medical purposes has a much smaller chance of creating addiction in patients as compared to powerful prescription opioid painkillers as well, further increasing their viability as a safe alternative. Additional research is needed, but as more medical professionals adopt safer approaches to treating chronic pain, medical marijuana may represent the alternative that finally slows or stops the incredible loss of life of opioid-related deaths.