Today’s society is addicted to a vast number of legal and illegal drugs, from alcohol to nicotine, opiates and steroids. It has become vital to understand the nature of addiction and dependence to offer relief to the many affected.
Addiction is a disease and not a personality flaw according to the latest scientific studies; even though people takes drugs to feel good, to feel better or to do better, “addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. It is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain.”[i]
The oldest archaeological evidence of the use of a psychoactive plant in a cultural context comes from a Neanderthal burial site In Northern Iraq, dating back 50,000 years[ii]. It seems crucial to understand what has driven and is still driving humanity to seek altered states of consciousness from mood altering plants since the dawn of time. Gordon Wasson[iii], Dr. Richard Evans Schultes[iv] and other ethnobotanists have skillfully asserted the possibility that psychoactive plants could have been the leading force in the evolution of Homo Sapiens, the origin of language, art and religion. “The urge to alter one’s consciousness is as primary as the drive to satiate thirst, hunger or sexual desire”[v], vital to our survival and to our evolution, programmed into humanity as a natural need that has however taken a dark and destructive aspect in the last century.
Cannabis, one of the first plants domesticated by humans, has been vilified and prohibited these past hundred years through propaganda and deception, even today misinformation is rampant. Robert L. DuPont, the president of the Institute for Behavior and Health, the first director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse still wants us to believe that the Cannabis plant “is positively correlated with alcohol use and cigarette use, as well as illegal drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine.” Mr. DuPont however “does not mean that everyone who uses marijuana will transition to using heroin or other drugs, but it does mean that people who use marijuana also consume more, not less, legal and illegal drugs than do people who do not use marijuana.”[vi] Mr. DuPont believes rightly that we are at a crossroad, he understands that legalizing Cannabis will have a lasting effect on future generations but he anticipates negative repercussions. He appears uninformed because the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) while keeping Cannabis on the Schedule I Drug list[vii] mentioned on page 35 of its 2016 Report that after 40 years of research the direct influential correlation between Cannabis use and other illicit drug use cannot be confirmed.
Americans for Safe Access (ASA) have filed a legal motion against the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to remove the gateway drug theory from their website because it in fact violates the Information Quality Act.[viii]
The DEA is the very same administration that gave preliminary approval for the manufacturing of a synthetic cannabis medication by the anti-cannabis pharmaceutical giant, Insys Therapeutics, who donated $500 million dollars to oppose Cannabis legalization in Arizona during the 2016 election and is under state and federal criminal investigations for possible fraud and for the overly aggressive marketing campaign of the potent and deadly opioid painkiller fentanyl. Insys is actually taking responsibility for the dangerous aspect of fentanyl by developing a drug to treat opioid overdose, their dedication to the patient is truly inspiring![ix]
Sir John Russell Reynolds, the house physician to Queen Victoria and president of the Royal College of Physicians in London recommended the use of Cannabis over opium for almost all painful maladies over a century ago. In 1890 he asserted in the medical journal, The Lancet, that “the bane of many opiates and sedatives is this, that the relief of the moment, the hour, or the day, is purchased at the expense of tomorrow’s misery. In no one case to which I have administered Indian hemp, have I witnessed any such results”, and 127 years later facing an out of control opiate epidemic, we can consider how uncanny Sir Reynolds’ perception was for his time and how ground breaking his approach is still today.
Dependable evidences indicate that legal access to Cannabis through dispensaries reduces hospital treatment admissions for addiction to pain killers and reduce opioid overdoses in states that legalized the medical and adult use of Cannabis. The research strongly indicates that the Cannabis plant is the only apparent preventive and healing solution to the worst opiate epidemic in the history of humanity.[x]
In a clinical study done in 2012, Philippe Lucas M.A assert that “there is a growing body of evidence to support the use of medical cannabis as an adjunct to or substitute for prescription opiates in the treatment of chronic pain. When used in conjunction with opiates, cannabinoids lead to a greater cumulative relief of pain, resulting in a reduction in the use of opiates (and associated side-effects) by patients in a clinical setting. Additionally, cannabinoids can prevent the development of tolerance to and withdrawal from opiates, and can even rekindle opiate analgesia after a prior dosage has become ineffective.[xi]
Preclinical animal tests have also shown than CBD (cannabidiol) reduces the rewarding properties of opiates by modulating neuronal circuits involved in drug addiction which
alleviate withdrawal symptoms and directly reduces heroin-seeking behavior[xii]. Doctor Yasmin L. Hurd did recently a correlative pilot study on a small group of patients and the results were analogous to the numerous tests done on rats.[xiii]
There are more than 650,000 opioid prescriptions dispensed daily in the United States by primary care clinicians who find managing chronic pain challenging and who have furthermore no evidence of the long-term efficacy of opioids for treating chronic pain according to the CDC’s (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) 2016 Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain in the United States.[xiv]
Today’s increase in opiate overdoses, narcotic and painkiller addiction cannot be due to the simple incompetence, ignorance and greed of clinicians and pharmaceutical companies; it is also the reflection of our society’s general state of depression and deep seated unhappiness.
As noted earlier, the primary urge to alter our consciousness to feel good or better is as central to our existence as the need to satisfy thirst, hunger or sexual desire; as such addiction is an answer to strong emotional experiences, often the repercussions of harsh living conditions, broken family and too often it is linked to child abuse.
It all comes down to the endogenous opioid neuropeptides and peptide hormones in humans and other animals called endorphins, this group of hormones are secreted by the brain and the nervous system. The release of these pleasure reinforcement and pain alleviation chemicals are associated with eating, drinking, sex, physical exercise and maternal behavior. Endorphin hormones are generally released by the body under stress and pain and interact with the opiate receptors in the brain to reduce our sensitivity to pain (very much like opioids). The endorphins are also at the source of the bonds we create with other human beings.
Anxiety, mood, and personality can all influence pain intensity, and Cannabis can have an outstanding action in this perspective[xv], there is “strong neurological interactions between the cannabinoids receptors and opioids system, in particular with respect to drug reward sensitivity”[xvi].
The CB1 and CB2 receptors of the endocannabinoids system have an important part to play as rewarding substitute to opioids; “CB1 is highly abundant in the central nervous system in areas involved in reward, regulation of appetite and nociception”, currently “only a few [sources of] data are available for the CB2 receptor in central function but growing evidence suggest a role in addictive processes, with an implication in cocaine, nicotine or ethanol effects.”[xvii]
The Food & Drug Administration admitted in their 2016 report that the gateway drug theory has been impossible to prove despite 40 years of research while the scientific world is finally rediscovering the potential of a plant which, far from being a gateway drug is in fact the most effective and least detrimental substitute in opioids and other addictive drugs.
Cannabis is in fact a getaway drug, which is as ironic as it is tragic.
Frenchy Cannoli is a consultant, educator and writer in the Cannabis industry with special focus on hash making using traditional methods. Frenchy can be reached through his website at: www.frenchycannoli.com or seen on Instagram @frenchycannoli.
[x] Do Medical Marijuana Laws Reduce Addiction and Deaths Related to Pain Killers? By David Powell, Rosalie Liccardo Pacula, and Mireille Jacobson
[xi] Cannabis as an Adjunct to or Substitute for Opiates in the Treatment of Chronic Pain By Philippe Lucas M.A
[xii] Interactions between cannabidiol and delta9-THC during abstinence in morphine-dependent rats. By Hine B, Torrelio M, Gershon S.
The quasi-morphine withdrawal syndrome: effect of cannabinol, cannabidiol and tetrahydrocannabinol. By Chesher GB, Jackson DM.
CB1 antagonism: interference with affective properties of acute naloxone-precipitated morphine withdrawal in rats. By Wills KL, Vemuri K, Kalmar A, Lee A, Limebeer CL, Makriyannis A, Parker LA
[xiii] Cannabidiol: Swinging the Marijuana Pendulum From ‘Weed’ to Medication to Treat the Opioid Epidemic By Yasmin L. Hurd. Trends in Neuroscience, February 2017
[xvi] Cannabinoid-Opioid Interactions By Michael L. Miller, Benjamin Chadwick, Claudia V. Morris, Michael Michaelides, Yasmin L. Hur
[xvii] Monitoring endogenous GPCRs: lessons for drug design edited by Dominique Massotte
Originally published in Weed World Magazine issue 130
Image – Pixabay