Medical Cannabis vs Prescription Opiate Pain Killers

Oct 31, 2017

Credit Wikimedia Commons

More than 33,000 Americans died from opioid overdoses last year.  Local medical cannabis proponents say many of these deaths can be prevented. HPR’s Wayne Yoshioka reports. 

One American dies every 20 minutes after overdosing on opioids, nearly half of them from prescription painkillers like Oxycontin, Percocet, Vicodin and Fentanyl.  Brian Goldstein is the founder and CEO of Noa Botannicals, a medical cannabis dispensary in Honolulu.

Brian Goldstein, founder and owner, Noa Botannicals
Credit Wayne Yoshioka

“We are in the grips of an opioid epidemic and our competition are the pharmaceutical drugs that are killing people.  That people are getting addicted to.  And the National Academy of Scientists issued a report – a groundbreaking report – in February of this year, that there’s overwhelming evidence that cannabis is a medicine and is effective in managing pain.  So, really, the debate over whether cannabis is a medicine is over.”

Goldstein says it’s only a matter of time until the U-S Drug Enforcement Agency recognizes the federal medical branch findings.

Honolulu Wellness Center, medical director, Paul Klink, says medical cannabis is a non-synthetic natural medicine.

Paul Klink, medical director and owner, Honolulu Wellness Center
Credit Wayne Yoshioka

“The reality of cannabis is that one side effect that you’ll get, I’ll get, everyone gets, is giggles.  No one has ever overdosed, in the history of man, on cannabis.  If you stop taking it, it’s not like you’re gonna go into some shakes and misfits.  Try stop taking your opiates for a day.  Good luck with that.  Cannabis, it’s a perfect gateway drug to get people off of opiates.  And you don’t have to get high to appreciate the medicine.  You will have some psychotropic euphoria.  You might giggle.  There’s worse things to have happen.”

Dr. Thomas Cook is a Honolulu psychiatrist who treats opioid addiction and dependence.  He previously prescribed Suboxone to his patients to curb their opioid cravings.

Dr. Thomas Cook, psychiatrist in private practice
Credit Wayne Yoshioka

“The problem is a lot of people get stuck of Suboxone because it is an opiate.  It doesn’t produce quite the euphoria that the others do but it is an opiate.  The successful Suboxone taper rate is about 30 percent andthat’s been shown in the literature.  Among my patients that are on Suboxone who use cannabis, I have seen about a 50 to 80 percent successful taper rate and being off all opiates.”

Meanwhile, dispensary owner Goldstein says an American Medical Association study a couple of years ago, showed that in 5 states with legal medical cannabis programs, there was a decline in their rates of opioid prescriptions and overdose deaths every

year.  And, the longer it was legalized in those states, the steeper the decline.

“I think the big challenge is getting the word out to people who have not considered medical cannabis previously that it’s a natural botanical.  It’s just a plant and it’s nothing to be scared of.  It’s a safe alternative to pharmaceuticals.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted two years ago, that in Hawai’I, Opioid overdose deaths for those 55 years of age or older was more than ages 35 to 44 and 45 to 54, combined.  Wayne Yoshioka, HPR News.