How Cannabis Could Solve the Opioid Crisis
August 31, 2017 11:52 am ET
The opioid crisis has ballooned to epidemic levels in the United States. With no solutions in sight, the FDA and CDC are seeking urgent solutions and the President declared a “national emergency”. Research shows that cannabis could be a viable alternative to opioids and dramatically reduce opioid overdose deaths, but the drug remains a Schedule I Controlled Substance on a federal level, which makes it difficult to prescribe.
In this article, we will take a closer look at the crisis and some companies that are developing solutions that incorporate cannabinoids.
Opioid Epidemic Reaches Crisis Levels
The opioid crisis began in the 1990s with the over-prescription of powerful pain relievers. Over the ensuing years, opioids became the most prescribed class of medication in the United States with nearly 300 million prescriptions written per year. Americans diagnosed with chronic pain were given prescription opioids to alleviate their pain on an ongoing basis, although there has been no change in the amount of pain reported in the country.
Drug overdoses have since become the leading cause of death for Americans under 50 and a full two-thirds of those deaths come from prescription opioid abuse. Between 1999 and 2016, the number of Americans that died from opioid overdoses annually has risen from 4,000 to 62,000. The problem appears to be growing exponentially with a nearly 20% increase in overdoses between 2015 and 2016 and an acceleration of deaths by mid-2017.
Earlier this year, Maryland’s governor declared a state of emergency to combat the opioid epidemic and by mid-year opioid addiction was cited as the FDA’s biggest crisis and the CDC called for urgent action to combat the issue. On August 10, President Trump declared the country’s opioid crisis a “national emergency”, which puts the opioid epidemic into the lime-light and has encouraged lawmakers to seek alternative solutions.
Cannabinoids Provide an Ideal Solution
The legalization of medical marijuana in many U.S. states has created an attractive alternative to opioids. Cannabinoids may play an important role in pain relief by acting on CB2 receptors that control how pain is experienced. In fact, GW Pharmaceuticals plc’s (NASDAQ: GWPH) Sativex - approved by many regulators - has been successfully used by patients with advanced cancer-associated pain that were immune to chronic administration of opioids.
Studies have shown that patients prefer cannabis over opioids by a wide margin. Researchers from the University of California Berkeley and Kent State University found that 97% of nearly 3,000 patients surveyed strongly agreed or agreed that they were able to decrease the amount of opioids they consume when they also consume cannabis. Moreover, 81% strong agreed or agreed that only cannabis was more effective than taking cannabis with opioids.
Opioid abuse has also declined in states where medical marijuana has been legalized. Researchers found a 25% lower rate of prescription painkiller overdose deaths, on average, after implementation of a medical marijuana law. In these states, prescription painkiller users tend to decrease their dosage when using cannabis, which makes overdoses less likely. In 2010 alone, there were 1,700 fewer opioid-related deaths in states that have legalized cannabis.
The problem is that the drug remains a Schedule I Controlled Substance on a federal level, which has made it difficult to prescribe among the medical community. Many patients are forced to self-medicate or work with doctors outside of the medical system to achieve the desired pain relief. A nationwide medical marijuana framework could expand access to the drug and help alleviate the opioid epidemic while helping patients better medicate.
Why AXIM Biotechnologies is Well-Positioned
AXIM Biotechnologies Inc. (OTCQB: AXIM) is developing a chewing-gum based delivery technology that incorporates cannabinoids to deliver pain relief. Its lead product is MedChew Rx® for pain and spasticity in multiple sclerosis, which it plans to register with the EMA and FDA by the end of next year. The company is also developing several other clinical products aimed at helping patients alleviate pain and suffering in lieu of using opioids.
In June, the company also filed a patent application for a chewing gum composition with controlled release of cannabinoids and opioid agonists and/or antagonists for addiction and/or dependence treatment. The chewing gum may also be used for the treatment of chronic pain.
“Opioid addiction is a serious global problem that affects the health, social, and economic welfare of all societies,” said George E. Anastassov, MD, DDS, MBA and CEO of AXIM Biotech. “Opioid addiction therapy depends on a variety of techniques. One of them is the replacement therapy, where an opioid is replaced with another less potent and less addictive opioid that curbs the cravings and reduces withdrawal symptoms, while maintaining the person’s mental state such that the person is still able to function normally.”
In addition to replacing opioids, users may avoid the adverse effects caused by injection, smoking, and other delivery methods. The act of chewing has also been shown to be neuroprotective, destressing, and indices the release of reward hormones such as dopamine and serotonin, while improving oral health.
The opioid crisis has reached epidemic levels in the United States and urgent solutions are needed. While the legalization of medical marijuana in some states has helped, medical professionals are hesitant to recommend a drug that is illegal on a federal level.
Companies like AXIM Biotechnologies Inc. (OTCQB: AXIM) are well-positioned to capitalize on these dynamics by developing clinical products incorporating cannabinoids. AXIM Biotech is currently developing cannabinoid-based pain relief products, as well as a product that’s designed to help combat opioid addiction itself. Investors may want to keep an eye on the stock as the team works to bring these products to market.