Legal Medications More Dangerous than Cannabis
From known addictive substances like tobacco, to the caffeine in your morning cup of coffee, it was clear that cannabis is relatively harmless when compared with some of the drugs we used in our everyday lives.
This week, we’re going a step further and looking at some of the prescription drugs that doctors are prescribing in our hospitals today. We find this aspect particularly disturbing for a few reasons:
- If you read our History of Cannabis article, we talked about how cannabis was banned to prevent the hemp fibers industry from competing with the pulp and paper business. As a result, cannabis has been kept out of western medicine for the last 80 years.
- Big pharmaceutical companies spend big money on lobbying governments to affect health policies. Essentially, pharmaceutical companies are using their financial power to gain political influence, which in turn ensures that doctors can prescribe their medicines, no matter how harmful they may turn out to be.
- As a result, doctors who could potentially be prescribing cannabis as a pain killer under a variety of circumstances are prescribing stronger opioid pain killers, many of which we’ll discuss below. Big drug companies in the United States are actively lobbying against cannabis legislation to ensure that doctors keep prescribing harmful and highly addictive opioid pain killers whenever they can, thus maintaining profits in big pharmacy.
With all of that said, here are just a few medications that your doctor might prescribe that are more dangerous than cannabis.
Amphetamine – While this drug doesn’t sound like something you should give to a kid, amphetamine is the active ingredient in most ADHD medications that millions of young boys (and many young girls) take every single day. Amphetamine is a stimulant drug that acts by increasing the amount of dopamine in the brain. This treatment strategy addresses the constant need for stimulation that sufferers of ADHD experience by plying them with a steady supply of dopamine throughout the day. The drug does aid focus and side effects have been rated as minimal, but a 2007 study that appeared in a popular medical journal found that amphetamine was more dangerous than cannabis in terms of potential dependency development and the risk of physical harm.
Benzodiazepines – This drug class is one of the most notoriously deadly in North America, yet few people can readily identify members of this class. Still, when rappers like The Game sing about popping a valium in response to stress, or when Lil Wayne lists Xanax among his intoxicants of choice, it’s important to remember that we’re talking about the same drugs that killed Michael Jackson and Heath Ledger.
Benzos are used to treat conditions like anxiety and insomnia – they enhance the activity of special transmitter molecules in the brain called GABA that are normally responsible for calming the body down. The trouble is that when your body gets too calm, it starts to shut down everything, including the functioning of the autonomic nervous system that controls your breathing and heart function.
Michael Jackson and Heath were two high profile cases of deaths that occurred because of a benzodiazepine overdose. Since 1996, while the United States government multiplied its efforts to shut down illegal cannabis trafficking, the annual rate of overdose deaths due to benzodiazepines multiplied by 4.
Oxycontin – Oxycontin’s patent approval in Canada made it the most popular long-lasting painkiller prescribed in Canada, and eventually allowed Canada to surpass the United States as the number-one consumer of opioid drugs per capita in the world. By 2013, however, there were a few problems beginning to emerge:
- In 2011, twice as many Ontario residents were killed by opioid overdoses as drivers in car accidents.
- The annual gross number of opioid overdose deaths in Ontario tripled between 2002 and 2011.
- A 2011 report estimated that OxyContin abuse was costing $504 million annually in Canada, with around $304 million of those costs occurring in Ontario where prescriptions were the highest.
The problem became so dire that the government of Canada banned OxyContin from pharmacies across the country! Manufacturer Purdue Canada then replaced the drug with OxyNEO, an alternative whose “tamper proof” marketing campaign claimed that it was harder for addicts to crush and snort. While legislators worked to restrict access to OxyContin, drug companies cranked out alternatives like hydromorphone and fentanyl to ensure Canadians would still have access to opiate medicines.
Nitrous Oxide – Anesthesiologists are some of the highest-paid professionals in health care – they make big bucks to carefully monitor the drugs used to sedate patients during surgery, as even the smallest error could mean death for the patient. It might come as a surprise, then, that Nitrous Oxide, also known as “laughing gas” can be purchased right off the street.
Technically, nitrous oxide is only legally available for doctors, and it should stay that way. An overdose can cause permanent nerve damage, or even kill.
Chantix – This prescription drug marketed by pharmaceuticals giant Pfizer claims to help you quit smoking, and studies show that those who took it were 44-50% successful at quitting compared to the 12-18% success rate of a control group that took a sugar pill. So, what’s the catch?
More than 2400 individuals are preparing a class-action lawsuit against Pfizer after hundreds of Chantix users in Britain and the United States committed suicide within the 5 years that the drug was available for sale. We’re pretty sure that those planning to quit smoking weren’t also planning to quit life.
When compiling this list, we noticed something very important that most of these medications have in common: they have some of the same benefits as cannabis! Like benzodiazepines, cannabis can and has been used to treat anxiety and insomnia, and it does so without any of the potentially deadly side effects. Cannabis could potentially replace oxycontin and other opiate pain killers in the future. Even cannabis cigarettes could act as a replacement for tobacco and help smokers kick the nicotine habit.
At the end of the day, it would make a lot more sense for Canadians to say no to the harmful drugs listed above and stick to cannabis, a medicine whose beneficial and pleasant effects have been known for thousands of years and caused zero overdose deaths.