America’s Opioid Crisis: Can High-CBD Cannabis Combat Pain and Reduce Addiction Rates?

Those fortunate enough to only know the word “opioid” outside the context of personal tragedy may not realize what this addiction looks like up close. Opioid abuse is a scary-sounding statistic, with something to the tune of 19,000 Americans dying of overdose in 2014 alone, and a four-fold increase in opioid prescriptions written since 1999.

But for Stephen Mandile, an army veteran who served in the U.S. military for seven years before injury dismissed him, opioids represent a decade of struggle with pain – the kind of physical and emotional pain that has you leaning against the fence between life and death, wondering what could possibly be worse than an existence that seems a mockery of the word “life.”

“I was getting about two hours of sleep every few days, not caring about anything except for my next dose,” Mandile said. “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.”

In 2012, Mandile received a medical cannabis authorization in Massachusetts and waited three years for dispensaries to open their doors. “I was amazed at the pain relief I got from cannabis,” he recalled. “It helped with my migraines, my anger, my depression and my anxiousness. Within five months, I was finished with most of my VA meds.”

Number of opioid prescriptions by state. Some states have more prescriptions than people.
Number of opioid prescriptions by state. Some states have more prescriptions than people. 

In 2014, a study found that states with medical marijuana laws saw 25% fewer deaths from opioid overdose compared to states without. Is this a mere correlation, or could there be more stories like Stephen’s that demonstrate how cannabis can help reduce opioid dependence? What’s most fascinating about this link, however, isn’t just that cannabis can substitute for opioids by virtue of its own analgesic properties. Studies are showing that one of its non-intoxicating constituents, cannabidiol (CBD), may actually treat symptoms of addiction.

The Story of Stephen Mandile

Stephen Mandile served in the U.S. military for seven years until he was injured in a motor collision.
Stephen Mandile served in the U.S. military for seven years until he was injured in a motor collision.

“My time in Iraq is hard to describe,” Mandile began, recalling his time as a sergeant in the National Guard. “I felt honored to be around some great people, and proud to be serving America.”

Having ranked at the top of the civil service test in Massachusetts for police and firefighting, Mandile had a bright future ahead of him. But in 2005, a motor collision in Baghdad left him with five ruptured discs, sciatic pain, a narrowing spine, degenerative disc disease, spinal arthritis, lumbar radiculopathy in both legs and feet, traumatic brain injury, and major depressive disorder.

“[I was told] that I would end up in a wheelchair before I was 50 years old,” Mandile said, “So at 28 years old, I was left to figure out a new plan, but that never happened because of the lack of care, and an abundance of opioids.”

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