He simply needed all of those meds to function. “My pain is different every day, it's dull, sharp, stabbing,” Young said. “Sometimes it can be just a lingering, throbbing pain sitting in the back of my neck agonizing me.”
Despite his dependence, he grew tired of having to keep track of the pills he’d taken on a given day. “Every time I went in for refills or checkups, I would say, 'I can't live this way,' Young said. “I was probably taking more prescriptions than my grandfather.”
With the help of a pain management specialist at the University of Washington, he began to wean himself off opioids starting three years ago. Since this past March, the now-41-year-old Internet entrepreneur has been essentially opioid-free.
Young applied a kitchen sink approach to phasing out his pain meds, turning to mind-body relaxation techniques, like acupuncture, and herbal and Chinese medicine. But one of the keys to his post-painkiller existence has been medical marijuana.
Twenty-three states allow marijuana to be used, at least medically. But in the eyes of the federal government, cannabis is on par with heroin, LSD and ecstasy—a so-called schedule 1 drug that is said to be highly addictive and have no medical value. Manufacturers of opioid drugs, like Perdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, financially back several high-profile groups that lobby against marijuana legalization across the country.
A resident of Seattle, Young took advantage of Washington state’s 2012 decision to legalize pot. He is now one of an estimated 2 million people in the U.S. who use medical marijuana to treat a variety of ailments, according to the group Americans for Safe Access. Among pot’s possible uses, say many pain specialists, is to help patients reduce their dependence on opioids.