Could Pot be the Answer to Today’s Opioid Epidemic?

Posted on  June 6, 2018


2 Recent Studies Shed New Light on the
Use of Medicinal Marijuana

The National Institute on Drug Abuse says that each day more than 115 people in the United States die after overdosing on opioids.[1]

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared a public health emergency related to the abuse of opiates. Science Daily reports, using HHS statistics, that “opioid overdoses accounted for more than 42,000 deaths in 2016, more than any previous year on record, and more than 40 percent of opioid overdose deaths involved a prescription opioid.”[2]

This opioid epidemic has put incredible pressure on doctors to change the way they treat pain.

The opioid epidemic itself can be traced back to the 1990s, when there was a push to start alleviating the burdens of pain by advocacy groups. Large pharmaceutical companies saw an opening and enticed doctors – in part through misleading marketing about the safety and efficacy of drugs – to prescribe opioids to treats all sorts of pain symptoms.


This gave rise to the proliferation of drugs like hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine, methadone and fentanyl as America became the world’s leader in opioid prescriptions.

By 2015, the CDC says that enough opioids were prescribed to medicate every American around the clock for three weeks.[3]

As publicity about the opioid crisis and the dangers of these prescription drugs has surged, doctors have begun looking for viable alternatives to opioid prescriptions and it turns out one possible solution may be medicinal marijuana.

New Study Finds Legalized Medical
Cannabis Lowers Opioid Use

Researchers at the University of Georgia released findings in April that show U.S. states that have approved medical cannabis laws have seen a dramatic reduction in opioid use.[4]

Science Daily reports that in a paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Internal Medicine, “researchers examined the number of all opioid prescriptions filled between 2010 and 2015 under Medicare Part D, the prescription drug benefit plan available to Medicare enrollees. In states with medical cannabis dispensaries, the researchers observed a 14.4 percent reduction in use of prescription opioids and nearly a 7 percent reduction in opiate prescriptions filled in states with home-cultivation-only medical cannabis laws.”[5]

Discussing the study findings with Science Daily, W. David Bradford, study co-author and Busbee Chair in Public Policy in the UGA School of Public and International Affairs, said: “Physicians cannot prescribe cannabis; it is still a Schedule I drug, We’re not observing that prescriptions for cannabis go up and prescriptions for opioids go down. We’re just observing what changes when medical cannabis laws are enacted, and we see big reductions in opiate use.”

So Could Medicinal Marijuana be the Solution to the Opioid Crisis That Doctors Have Been Looking For?

Not so fast … says another new study.

The study, conducted by Theodore L. Caputi, BS of University College Cork’s School of Public Health and Keith Humphreys, PhD, of Stanford University and published just two weeks after the UGA study in the Journal of Addiction Medicine found that people who use medical marijuana actually have higher rates of medical and non-medical prescription drug use – including pain relievers.[6]

In other words, while many believe medicinal marijuana is an effective pain reliever that could be substituted for potentially more dangerous opioid medications, more study needs to be done.

As the editors of scientific journal Addiction recently said: “Given … limitations of the evidence, it is premature to recommend the expansion of access to medical cannabis as a policy to reduce opioid overdose risks in the United States and Canada.”







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