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.”
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-psychoactive constituents, cannabidiol (CBD), may actually treat symptoms of addiction.