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Medical Cannabis may be A Better Treatment Option Than Opioids for Post-Surgical Pain

Leslie kahn

A close friend just had spinal cord surgery. She was back at work within 2 weeks. She is convinced that her rapid and successful recuperation was due to her use of medical cannabis as her post operative treatment option. This article examines the benefits of using medical cannabis, instead of opioids, to control pain and aid recovery after surgeries of all types.
We live in an era where doctors have convinced patients that they should never experience pain and that bad pain requires opioids. My husband experienced this when he recently broke his ankle in 4 places. He went into shock, so it was my job to advocate for him at the ER. He was given a low dose injection of Fentanyl despite my protestations. After surgery, he was prescribed 60 Norco which was considered to be a 10 day supply. Again, I asked the doctor not to prescribe him opioids as he has an addictive personality. She ignored me and wrote out a prescription.
Opioids and Pain Control
Some doctors are speaking out on the truth about opioids. Dr. Lonnie Zeltzer, a California based doctor who runs an integrative pain clinic at UCLA, is one of many doctors who wants to set the record straight on the opioid epidemic in the US. She believes that what we are actually experiencing is a pain epidemic rather than an opioid epidemic and it is not being treated effectively. The opioid problem is a symptom of the inability of doctors to help patients deal with chronic pain. Doctors are not being educated on the appropriate and effective treatment of chronic pain. That deficit causes them to overprescribe opioids.     

According to Zeltzer, the public has become convinced that bad pain requires opioids as the first treatment option. Opioids do not cure pain. In some cases, they do reduce distress. For some types of pain, opioids do nothing to reduce it or they make it worse. They were never meant to be used on a long term basis. She also highly recommends an integrative approach to coping with chronic pain which goes beyond just medication. 

Opioids work by tricking the pain center of the brain while simultaneously causing other body systems to become numb. They were designed to treat intense pain, post surgery, for a limited period. Yet, millions of Americans currently use them for weeks, months and even years. They build up a tolerance, increase the dosage, often become addicted and overdose. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in the US, someone dies from an opioid overdose every 11 minutes. It is very common for patients to try opioids for the first time after a surgery. 6% of consumers continue using them for 3 months or more post surgery.

Post Operative Treatments

Chronic pain and nerve damage are common problems following all types of surgeries. Pain, in particular, is very difficult to control because many of the available drugs are either ineffective, have many debilitating side effects or cannot be tolerated by some patients.

This list includes just some of the possible side effects of opioids:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Itching
  • Sedation
  • Confusion
  • Swelling
  • Dizziness
  • Depression
  • Sweats
  • Blurred or Double Vision
  • Chronic Constipation
  • Addiction

Benefits of Medical Cannabis as a Post Surgical Treatment Option

Medical cannabis has the capacity to affect several different body systems rather than just controlling pain. It does this by nourishing the Endocannabinoid System (ECS) with cannabinoids that are depleted in those who experience chronic pain and post-surgical symptoms. Many cannabis researchers now believe that many illnesses and disorders are the result of a Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency. Here is a link to more information on this theory. 

Here is a list of the ways that medical cannabis works to speed recovery after surgeries:

  • Distracts the active psychological centers of the brain to ignore the pain
  • Relaxes contracted muscles which result from post-surgical inactivity
  • Decreases stress and anxiety that often accompany major surgeries
  • Aids in digestion and gastric balancing which may have been interrupted by the surgical process
  • Increases appetite; consuming high protein foods is crucial for faster wound healing
  • Reduces nausea and vomiting which may result from anaesthesia usage
  • Relieves constipation which can quickly become a chronic problem with opioids
  • Speeds up recovery time due to the return of the body systems to homeostasis 
  • It Is not addictive

Considerations When Choosing Medical Cannabis

Choice of delivery method is very personal when it comes to medical cannabis usage. However, if you have had any sort of abdominal surgery where coughing or vomiting would be dangerous, post surgery, it is recommended that you refrain from smoking and even vaping medical cannabis.
For those who do not enjoy the psychotropic effects of THC, consider using a high-CBD/low-THC strain or CBD only.
Finding the right strain is always part of the process of successful medical cannabis usage. If you want to control pain, but you need to stay alert and focused during the day, choose high-CBD/low-THC strains. 


Sources:, Could Cannabis Replace Opiates As a Post-Surgery Recovery Medicine of Choice? May 4, 2017, M. Carroll, 5 Reasons Marijuana Should Be PostOp Treatment, PostOp Pain and Cannabis, July 7, 2015, Gooey Rabinski, Patients Seek Out Alternatives To Opioids In Treatment of Chronic Pain, August 1, 2016