Stephanie Bertrand, 36-year-old mother of four from Windsor, admits at one time she was so high she almost strangled her ex-boyfriend to death. Wendy Davis was 17 when her doctor prescribed her a bottle of Vicodin for a cyst on her knee. She recalls, “My physical pain disappeared, along with my teenage angst. I felt giddy and light, as if I were floating… I was sad when the bottle was empty.” Will Doerhoff was introduced to the prescription stimulant Adderall while a freshman at the University of Arkansas. Adderall led to painkillers; painkillers led to heroin; heroin led to rehab, and the end of rehab soon led to a relapse. At 20 years old, Will was dead from an overdose, becoming just another statistic in the global opioid epidemic.
Opioids were responsible for more than 33,000 deaths in the United States in 2015―or 90 deaths a day. In Canada , 2,800 people died from opioid use in 2016, and that figure is expected to surpass 3,000 in 2017. And perhaps even more troubling in the fight against opioids―which the U.S. Commission’s Report declared as a “public health emergency” in October 2017―is that it’s not only a dealer or an old high school flame that can get you your score…often, it’s your doctor.
Death by prescription
Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death among Americans under the age of 50. And prescription opioids are involved in nearly half of these deaths. Opioids can be prescribed as painkillers, under brand names such as OxyContin®, Percocet®, Vicodin®, Percodan®, Tylox® and Demerol®, among others. And illegally, heroin.
In 2014, more than 240 million prescriptions were written in the US for prescription opioids, which is more than enough to give every American adult their own bottle of pills. Of the 33,000 opioid-related deaths in 2015, more than 22,000 of them involved prescription opioids.
CBD treatment offers hope
While the rising number of deaths show that the US and Canada are losing the fight against opioid addiction, the cannabis product Cannabidiol (CBD) is demonstrating a propensity for hope.
“There is scientific evidence that CBD can be an effective replacement for opioid addiction, by blocking the rewarding effects of opioids,” says Erick Factor, Exec. Chairman of MYM Nutraceuticals, a leading cannabis brand focused on high quality cannabis products and growing facilities. Factor is a well-known expert in the cannabis industry and founder of the Westcoast Medicann licensed dispensary in Vancouver. During his 20 years of experience in cultivating medical marijuana and manufacturing cannabis by-products, he has provided medical marijuana to thousands of patients.
“CBD can help patients avoid the use of opioids, manage the amount of opioids necessary by providing alternative pain management, and help ween patients off opioids before they become dependant,” said Factor.
CBD is a prominent chemical in cannabis that has been shown to treat victims of cancer, epilepsy, diabetes and schizophrenia. Recent studies demonstrate what Erick Factor is claiming about what the impact CBDs can have in the fight against opioids.
What the studies show
A study conducted at the University of Mississippi, and published in Planta Medica , showed that a dose of 10 mg/kg of cannabidiol was effective in blocking opioid rewards, and that “when administered alone, cannabidiol was void of rewarding and aversive properties.”
“If you look at both drugs [cannabis and opioids] and where their receptors are, opioids are much more dangerous in part because of the potential for overdose,” says Yasmin L. Hurd, PhD, and the Director of the Center for Addictive Disorders for the Mount Sinai Behavioral Health System. “Opioid receptors are very abundant in the brainstem area that regulates our respiration, so they shut down the breathing center if opioid doses are high. Cannabinoids do not do that. They have a much wider window of therapeutic benefit without causing an overdose in adults.”
Hurd’s research on the effectiveness of medical marijuana was featured on the cover story of TIME magazine in 2015, and she has been a strong advocate of legalizing medical marijuana across all 52 states, due in part to a 2014 study that found that states with medical marijuana laws have 25 percent fewer deaths from opioid overdoses, compared to states without medical cannabis.
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CBD helping patients overcome addiction
Stephen Mandile served in the US army for seven years before a life-changing motor accident in Baghdad left him with five ruptured discs, a narrowing spine, degenerative disc disease, spinal arthritis, lumbar radiculopathy in both legs and feet, a traumatic brain injury, and depression. Mandile was prescribed opioids, and what was quickly a mechanism of healing turned into a decade of struggle that almost killed him.
“I was getting about two hours of sleep every few days, not caring about anything except for my next dose,” says Mandile. “Counting my pills all day to make sure I had enough of everything else for when my fentanyl would wear off, and I would go into withdrawal. I just wanted to die.”
Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, but some fentanyl is designed to mimic the pharmacological effects of the original drug, may be as much as 10,000 times more potent than morphine. In its illegal form, fentanyl is sold on the street as heroin, or drug traffickers use it to make cheap counterfeit prescription opioids.
In 2015, Mandile began using medical cannabis as treatment to his opioid addiction. “I was amazed at the pain relief I got from cannabis. It helped with my migraines, my anger, my depression and my anxiousness.”
During the years prior to Mandile using cannabis, he was prescribed 57 different drugs for pain and depression: nine opioids including morphine, fentanyl, Vicodin, codeine, Percocet, oxycodone, and methadone; seven different muscle relaxants; six benzodiazepines including Xanax and Valium; and seven antidepressants.
Mandile represents millions of victims suffering from physical and mental pain who are walking a tight rope between pain management and drug addiction. The increased education surrounding the benefits of CBDs for opioid addiction creates an opportunity for investors to get on the right side of an issue that is transforming into a global pandemic.
The wide range of benefits that CBDs provide have been covered extensively. It’s also an extremely versatile chemical, deriving from both hemp and marijuana plants. Its versatility provides investors with the choice of market based on how accessible certain CBDs are to the consumer. For instance, CBD that’s high in THC (marijuana-based) can only be sold in states where marijuana is legal. But CBD that’s low in THC (hemp-based) can be sold in most states, and online, since hemp is not considered an illegal substance.
The Hemp Business Journal estimates that the CBD market will grow to a $2.1 billion market in consumer sales by 2020, with $450 million of those sales coming from hemp-based sources. That’s a 700 percent increase from 2016.
In 2015, the market for consumer sales of hemp-derived CBD products was $90 million, plus another $112 million in marijuana-derived CBD products which were sold through dispensaries, bringing the total CBD market to $202 million.
Combine those numbers with the more than two million Americans who are estimated as dependent on opioids, and an additional 95 million who have used prescription painkillers in the past year—that’s more than who used tobacco ―and a strong case could be made that CBD will soon be considered the unquestioned solution in the fight against opioids.