Medical Marijuana and Opioids Comparison

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The use of opioids as painkillers is a common phenomenon worldwide. Opioids are majorly used to treat post-surgery pain among sufferers who have undergone surgical procedure as well. Likewise, medical marijuana is gaining reputation on the same basis of pain remedy as opioids. In the United States, pharmacists are devising alternative painkillers to opioids using medical marijuana. While many scientists are growing resorting to marijuana as an alternative painkiller, there is a good number who would stick to opioids as painkillers as well. Researchers such as Hill are recommending marijuana since it presents a lower risk of dependancy and death from overdoses compared to opioids whose use has prompted declaration of the opioids epidemic. As much as they have similarities in their functionality, they also have differences in terms of risk involved and side effects. This paper is a comparison between medical marijuana and opioids.


Pain Blocking

Both drugs are known to have the effect of pain relieving when taken into the blood stream. For this reason, opioids are largely used in surgery for purposes of anesthesia. Over time, opioids have been proved very effective during surgeries. They are effective because they immediately block pain neurotransmissions to the brain when administered, thus eliminating the pain. Likewise, marijuana has been used to relieve pain, but the mechanism of pain blocking by marijuana is not yet well elaborated. Therefore, they can all be used as treatment drugs effectively. However, use of these drugs should be according to expert prescription to minimize or eliminate their risks of addiction and death.

Addiction Potential

Both drugs have the effect of euphoria when taken by an individual. Therefore, individuals are likely to use the drugs for leisure purposes, hence leading to addiction. However, the use of these drugs for purposes other than medical is largely illegal in many countries. Medical marijuana is legal in Canada, Germany, Austria, and Spain. Both drugs have withdrawal syndrome when their use is discontinued abruptly (Hill, 2015). Individuals, who use marijuana and opioids frequently, develop tolerance and dependence on the drugs, hence proving it difficult to stop using them.

Treatment of Chronic Pain

Opioids are the only substances known for the treatment of chronic pain. This assertion remained undisputed before the 2015 controlled experimental research on cannabinoids. This study concluded that medical marijuana has significant capability of treating chronic neuropathic pain. Studies show that the drugs have similar functions, hence they can be used as substitutes (Hill, 2015).


Addiction Potential of Medical Marijuana and Opioids

There has been vast research comparing the addiction potential and risks of various drugs. Marijuana has been found to be at lower risk compared to the opioids. For instance, recent research has provided that marijuana is a low risk drug when fatal overdose is considered (Volkow, Baler, Compton, & Weiss, 2014). Opioid painkillers have been known in the U.S. and Canada to cause deaths due to high risk of overdose and addiction. Consequently, this fact led to declaration of the opioid epidemic. As a result, research is moving as closer to the use of less risky marijuana or a combination of the two.


Marijuana is illegal in the United States. However, for medical purposes, marijuana has been made legal in parts of the U.S., regions of Guam, larger parts of the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. There have been arguments claiming that the effects of marijuana have been overstated compared to those of opioids. On the other hand, opioids are legalized to be used for medical purposes including during operations as anesthesia and pain killers. Research has indicated that opioids present higher risks of addition and deaths from overdoses. This claim can be justified by recent declaration of opioid epidemic in the U.S. and Canada (Bachhuber, Saloner, Cunningham, & Barry, 2014).

Side Effects

Marijuana and opioids are both used to treat pain disorders in the body, but they have different side effects when used. Opioids are known to cause feeling of nausea, body itchiness, euphoria, constipation and respiratory depressions. On the other hand, marijuana causes the user to feel dizzy and tiresome, hallucinations and frequent vomiting (Volkow et al., 2014). Additionally, the euphoric feelings created by taking opioids leads to recreational use, hence resulting in addiction to the substance. As provided earlier in this paper, the side effects of opioids are more fatal compared those of marijuana.


Conclusively, medical marijuana has a number of similarities with opioids. The two drug substances have the ability to relief pain and give euphoric feelings to the users. Therefore, they can both be used for medicinal purposes as painkillers. Based on this, scientists are looking into replacing opioid painkillers with marijuana painkillers because of adverse effects opioids have to the health of humans. On the other hand, the two substances have differences in terms of level of risks caused, legality in different states of the U.S. and countries, and side effects of their use. Opioids cause feeling of nausea, body itchiness, euphoria, constipation and respiratory depressions while marijuana causes dizziness, hallucinations, and frequent vomiting.


Bachhuber, M.A., Saloner, B., Cunningham, C.O., & Barry, C.L. (2014). Medical cannabis laws and opioid analgesic overdose mortality in the United States, 1999-2010. JAMA Internal Medicine, 174(10), 1668-1673.

Deyo, R.A., Von Korff, M., & Duhrkoop, D. (2015). Opioids for low back pain. Bmj, 350, g6380.

Hill, K P. (2015). Medical marijuana for treatment of chronic pain and other medical and psychiatric problems: a clinical review. Jama, 313(24), 2474-2483.

Volkow, N.D., Baler, R.D., Compton, W.M., & Weiss, S.R. (2014). Adverse health effects of marijuana use. New England Journal of Medicine, 370(23), 2219-2227.

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