Two studies recently printed in JAMA Internal Medicine suggest that the United States could put an end to its opioid abuse crisis if it were to legalize cannabis. The two studies don’t directly assess the effects of legalizing cannabis on opioid addiction and overdose deaths, but they provide evidence that legalizing cannabis could reduce the prescribing of opioids. The discoveries suggest that patients use marijuana as a safer alternative to opioids for managing pain in states where it is legally available.
Legalizing cannabis could help the nation’s opioid addiction and fatal overdose crisis, the discoveries of two new studies suggest.
In the first study, researchers Hefei Wen from the Kentucky University and Jason Hockenberry of Emory University discovered that legalizing marijuana was followed by reductions in Medicaid opioid prescription rates. Where medical marijuana was legalized, there was a 5.88% drop in opioid prescriptions. In addition, where recreational marijuana was legalized, there was a reduction of 6.38%.
In the second study, at the University of Georgia, researchers W. David Bradford, Ashley Bradford, and Amanda Abraham found that legalizing medical marijuana at the state level was linked to an 8.5% drop in the number of daily opioid prescriptions. Moreover, states which allow patients to purchase medical cannabis from dispensaries witnessed a 14.4% reduction in opiate prescriptions. Lastly, states which allow home marijuana cultivation experienced a 6.9% reduction in opioid prescriptions.
The findings further give strength to arguments in favor of legalizing medical marijuana. The study concludes that medical applications of cannabis could be used as a tool to diminish the harm of prescription opioids.
Both research teams called for the federal government and state to fund additional similar studies which could clarify the effect of cannabis use on opioid use.
The Gravity Of The U.S. Opioid Crisis
In 2016, more than 64,000 Americans died from drug overdoses, including prescription opioids and illicit drugs. The number is almost double than it was a decade ago.
David Bradford, one of the authors of the second study, said that Americans are rightly concerned about opiate misuse, abuse, and the mortality. He added that they need to think clearly and use evidence to drive their policies. He thinks that those who are interested in giving people alternatives for pain management that don’t carry risks which opiates do should consider dispensary-based cannabis policies.
In the attempts to address the opioid epidemic, alternatives for pain management have been a topic of focus. Legalizing medical marijuana, which has shown to be effective and safe for managing chronic pain, has been suggested more than once.
Wen said that cannabis is one of the possible, non-opioid alternatives that can be used for managing pain; there’s a significantly lower risk of addiction and basically no risk of overdose.
At the federal level, cannabis remains illegal in the U.S. Twenty-nine states have permitted medical marijuana by passing their policies in defiance of the federal law. Eight of those have also legalized recreational marijuana.
Aversion To Marijuana As An Alternative
The discoveries from both studies are consistent with those of multiple prior studies which have connected cannabis access with reduced rates of opioid use and abuse, opioid-related hospitalizations, as well as fatal opioid overdoses.
Even though Americans accept marijuana, the President’s administration remains resistant to considering cannabis as a potential solution to the opioid crisis.
Jeff Sessions, U.S. Attorney General, has made some moves recently which point to his intentions to take severe measures when it comes to state-legal marijuana. He attempted to encourage Congress to remove the federal protection which prevents his Justice Department from going after state-legal cannabis. Moreover, a few months ago, he rescinded a policy from the Obama administration which had directed federal prosecutors not to prioritize cases related to recreational marijuana.
What’s more, Sessions has also proposed that marijuana is a gateway drug that actually contributes to the opioid crisis, in spite of this myth being debunked. He added that patients should “tough it out” and opt for over-the-counter aspirin to manage pain instead. In addition, Sessions recently urged federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty in some drug-related cases.
Due to the attorney general’s attack on cannabis, some doctors are hesitant to recommend the treatment in states where medical marijuana is legal.