Dr Oz: Medical Marijuana Instead Of Opiates For Chronic Pain


Dr Oz: Treating Chronic Pain

Dr Oz explained that opiates like Vicodin and Oxycontin are some of the most prescribed medicines in our country for treating chronic pain. Now, some doctors are prescribing pot instead. Chronic pain is a huge problem and the abuse of the drugs used to treat that pain has become an epidemic. More than 100 million people suffer from chronic pain and each year, over 250 million prescriptions are written for opiate pills that treat that pain.

Approximately 12 million people abuse those pills, with 50 people dying each day. Marijuana could be a safer alternative, and research shows that states with legalized medical marijuana have 25% fewer overdoses.


Dr Oz: Opiates Vs Marijuana

Dr Oz: Medical Marijuana Instead Of Opiates For Chronic Pain

Dr Oz talked about how many doctors are prescribing medical marijuana instead of opiates, believing it’s the safer option. (eggrole / flickr)

Dr Oz explained that that the active ingredient in pills like Vicodin is opiate. When you take one of the pills, it’s broken down and enters your bloodstream, affecting a specific area of the brain. Sometimes you take extra pills because your body can become resistant to the pills over time, which can lead to addiction.

The active ingredient in marijuana is THC, which gives a feeling a euphoria. Instead of going to your stomach, it goes to your lungs, which means it is quickly pulled into your bloodstream, going into the exact same spots of the brain as opiates. Dr Oz said marijuana seems to have the same pain relief effect as opiates.


Dr Oz: Benefits Of Prescribing Medical Marijuana

Dr Oz brought in Dr Devi Nampiaparampil, who said if someone just had surgery, opiates are the standard of care. But there’s evidence that says pain from cancer, HIV or AIDS, and multiple sclerosis may be better treated with medical marijuana. She said a lot of people with chronic pain also have nausea and loss of appetite, which marijuana is more effective in treating.

People have talked about marijuana being a gateway drug to other drugs, which is something that they need to be concerned about. Dr Devi said you also worry about breathing problems, and there’s some evidence that it could cause heart disease. Opiates can cause much more severe side effects.

Dr Oz: Chronic Pain Treatment Debate

Seth Jaffe, an addiction specialist, explained that anytime you use a mind-altering substance, there’s always a great chance for abuse or addiction. If you have an addictive personality, you can become addicted to either one. Seth said the easiest thing to do is get a medical marijuana card. The marijuana being sold has incredibly high levels of THC, which poses a risk as well.

Seth explained that if you start taking an opiate on April 1, by the end of the month, you’re going to need two or three times the amount of the medication that you started with. The tolerance increases quickly, whereas with marijuana, the tolerance levels don’t exist in the same way.

Dr Oz: Marijuana Vs Opiates

Dr Oz wanted to know if we would be trading in one problem for a big time addiction issue and Seth said yes. He said you’re possibly trading one addiction for another, but the thing is that opioids have both a physical and psychological addiction. He said he wouldn’t wish withdrawal from long-term opiate use on his worst enemy. Wow!

Marijuana doesn’t have a physical withdrawal, but it has a psychological withdrawal. Seth said addiction is addiction, but opiates are much more dangerous and addictive.

Dr Devi said a person who has an addictive personality can get addicted to either substance, but in the short term, they’re more worried about overdoses.

Dr Oz: Using Marijuana To Treat Chronic Pain

Dr Oz introduced everyone to a woman named Michelle, who had been struggling with chronic pain for years, after suffering a herniated disc in her back. She was prescribed three opiates but switched to medical marijuana two years ago. Michelle explained that on the prescription medicines she felt like she was in a daze and couldn’t function properly. She said medical marijuana has made her feel alive again.

Michelle explained that moderation is key, and said when it comes to smoking a joint, she just takes a couple of puffs a couple times a day, and that would be the equivalent of taking a couple of the prescription pills.

Dr Oz: Prescribing Medical Marijuana

Dr Oz then explained that medical marijuana is illegal in about half the states in America. Dr Devi practices in a state where it is illegal, and said she has advocated for more research to be done.

Dr Oz reached out to the FDA about using medical marijuana to treat chronic pain and in part, they said:

“Although the FDA has not approved any drug product containing or derived from botanical marijuana, the FDA is aware that there is considerable interest in its use to attempt to treat a number of medical conditions…”

Dr Oz said he respects the law but also recognizes the need to treat chronic pain. He said that marijuana is less addictive and ultimately safer than opiates, and as a physician, he would offer the safer choice.



  1. Jessie: Minnesota says

    Minnesotan temporarily in Wisconsin. Neither has med marijuana. Have suffered from chronic severe pain for more than 30 years – been on Vicodin for 3 years. Seems my choice is severe suffering or drop out of life with the opiates. Is there nothing else out there ????

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