Home Culture Could Opiates Actually be Causing Chronic Pain?

Could Opiates Actually be Causing Chronic Pain?


When it comes to opiates, we’re starting to recognize more and more of the dark side of something that was meant to provide relief. One of the biggest problems in our country right now is opiate addiction and overdose due to doctors prescribing narcotic painkillers to patients for many injuries that could have been managed differently. What if those pills that were temporarily relieving your pain, were actually making it worse in the long run? A new study from Colorado University, Boulder suggests that this is very likely to be true.

The study was run by Peter Grace and Linda Watkins and took place over the course of three months. First, they mimicked chronic nerve pain by opening up the rats’ thighs and tying a thread around a nerve – the thread dissolved after six weeks. Ten days after that, the rats received a treatment of morphine for a total of five days. From there, they tested the rats’ sensitivity to pain for the next three months.

In order to test the rats pain threshold they poked them with very fine threads of increasing sizes. The finer the thread the rat reacted to, the more sensitive it was to pain. After only six weeks, the rats who had been injured and not treated with morphine withdrew from the same thread as the rats who had not been injured at all – which meant their pain threshold was normal. Doubling that, it took 12 weeks before the rats treated with morphine saw their pain threshold return to that of an uninjured rat.

“Our key finding is that we were able to demonstrate that a brief treatment with a painkiller, like morphine, doubled the duration of chronic pain,” said Peter Grace, an Assistant Research Professor in the department of psychology and neuroscience.

This experiment proves that narcotic painkillers, like morphine, can end up having the opposite of the desired effect in the long run. In the study, they found that morphine and similar painkillers intensified the release of specific immune cells in the spinal cord, which in turn lead to prolonged pain. It created what they called a “cascade of actions”, such as spinal cord inflammation.

“The implications for people taking opioids like morphine, oxycodone and methadone are great, since we show the short-term decision to take such opioids can have devastating consequences of making pain worse and longer lasting,” said Professor Linda Watkins, who also led the study. “This is a very ugly side to opioids that had not been recognized before.”

Studies like this one are extremely important – we didn’t have this knowledge when we started prescribing narcotic painkillers for slightly more than minor aches and pains. If you’ve ever had a temporary prescription filled after a surgery, then you know they often prescribe you more than you are likely to need, too. All this can end up causing more problems for the individuals who suffer from chronic pain – and many people might not be in so much pain if it weren’t for the opiates in the first place.

There are many, many patients who swear that medical marijuana was able to help them get off opiate painkillers – and that they are in less pain after getting off of them. Heroin addicts go through withdraw pain, but people on a prescription never consider that they could be seeing the same symptoms. The word for it is hyperalgesia, which means the increase of chronic pain due to the use of opiates.

When you stop taking painkillers – especially if you’ve been taking them for years, even at the prescribed dosage the entire time – you will experience more pain than you would after your body recovers. However, in states where medical marijuana is a viable option for chronic pain, this is very possible to do while still having a way to cope with the pain that doesn’t cause the same long-term effects.

This is definitely a case for the FDA and DEA to consider when they make their decision in the next month or so on whether or not to reschedule marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act. If we’re already trying to overcome the opiate epidemic that has spread throughout our nation, then medical marijuana might just be the best way to do it. Hopefully, they will take this study into account and perhaps even fund further studies on opiates causing hyperalgesia and also the use of medical marijuana in chronic pain patients and as a treatment method for addiction.  


  1. Kudos to you Julia Granowicz. You are relentless. Your articles are well written, informative and numerous. I’m wondering when you have time for anything else. I am especially interested in the Florida market since that is where I reside. I am 67 and lived in Colorado from 2010-2015. I seen the early days of medical marijuana legalisation and the early days of recreational. Interesting to now be in another state that is approaching that threshold.

    I am an activist trying to raise awareness for the importance of clean and tested cannabis. It puzzles me to see a state approach legal status for medical marijuana, but it appears Florida has not learned from other states efforts, specifically, testing regulations for the product.

    The approved language that will be on the November ballot makes no mention of testing requirements. Colorado went down this path and only recently required testing for residuals of pesticides and other chemicals.

    I have used cannabis for some time now and never gave a thought to testing until I was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2010. I implemented Rick Simpson’s “Run From The Cure” method of making the concentrate via the website because then, oil was not easily available. I had no idea how the product was grown or what the cannabinoid profile was. The regulations treated medical cannabis as a one size fits all. You receive a doctors recommendation, register with the state and you can purchase so called ‘Medical Marijuana”. A discriminating medical marijuana patient is interested and deserves to know precisely how it was grown and what the healing profile of each strain is. How else can a patient seriously treat their condition?

    I consumed a 1 gram capsule of cannabis oil diluted with coconut oil, every day for 60 days. My PSA dropped to 2.1 from 5.2. Then I stopped. My resources ran out and to buy on the black market was another crapshoot. The end of that story is I received radiation therapy and all is good. But through it all, I had an epiphany.

    Medical Marijuana patients deserve more than obtaining a card to buy cannabis. The need to know how the product was grown and what’s inside. To me it is a clear sign the states do not fully understand the importance of the information and assume that for all the ailments cannabis can help, it’s simply a matter of getting permission from the state, then going to a Treatment Center to purchase medicine that has not been tested for anything.

    Thanks for listening. I have launched a website in an attempt to bring future medical cannabis patients together with future medical cannabis caregivers. Since the current language states that neither patients or caregivers will be allowed to grow, they must purchase from a licensed grower. It is unlikely that most growers will be concerned with growing in an organic fashion or testing product for residuals and active elements. My vision is to organise a number of patients and caregivers based on geographic location. When Amendment 2 is passed, we will assist both in the registering process. At that point, we hope to align with a cultivation center, by establishing an alliance with this group of caregivers. Essentially, our position will be…All these registered medical marijuana caregivers are ready to purchase from you if you will grow in an organic fashion and provide certified results of testing for residuals and cannabinoid profile. The site is http://www.cannabiscaregiversandpatients.com.

  2. This research is really interesting to me. If opiates do increase chronic pain that someone is taking them for, it could explain them trying to up the dosage and ending up getting addicted to it. It actually makes a lot of sense to me. Thanks for sharing!

  3. So let’s torture some rats to enable taking pain medicine away from sick patients. Wonderful. What a perverted idea it is to have one man tell another what type of medicine he can use.

    Here’s an idea. Very cutting edge – like it dates from all of human history up until the 1920’s. Let patients access whatever medicines they choose – especially plant-based medicines – and each patient can figure out for themselves how well it works and how much they need.

    Imagine what it’s like to be totally disabled some from part of your body hurting due to sickness or injury. Losing every bit of your happy life – your job, your friends, your hobbies, your signficant other. Your house. All to the monster of constant pain. Now you go to the doctor, and ask for help. Sorry, we’ve decided you can’t use the best painkiller in human history. Go home and suck it up. Sorry you can’t do you job, or make dinner, or get out of bed anymore. Some 15 year old kid is taking stolen opiates, so you have to suffer until death.

    Welcome to world of millions of chronic pain sufferers in the USA. Why doesn’t the government stop trying to punish and instead help. Help addicts take pure, safe medicine until they can recover. Help ensure that sick people get safe, uncontaminated medicines.