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Science Shows Legal Marijuana Reduces Opioid Issues

A growing body of research suggests that legal marijuana access is associated with reduced opioid addiction and overdose death

Here’s a sampling:

* Medical cannabis may be more effective at treating pain: According to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, “patients who were treated with cannabis or cannabinoids were more likely to experience a significant reduction in pain symptoms.”[1] Opioids have less compelling support in chronic pain management; according to the American Academy of Neurologists, “there is no substantial evidence for [opioids offering] maintenance of pain relief or improved function over long periods of time without incurring serious risk of overdose, dependence, or addiction.”[2] The National Institute on Drug Abuse now reports that “medical marijuana products may have a role in reducing the use of opioids needed to control pain.”[3]

* Access to medical cannabis may curb addiction: A federally-funded study showed “access to medical marijuana dispensaries is associated with lower levels of opioid prescribing, lower self-report of nonmedical prescription opioid use, lower treatment admissions for prescription opioid use disorders and reduction in prescription opioid overdose deaths.”[4] States with medical cannabis dispensaries saw a “15 to 35 percent decrease in admissions to substance abuse treatment centers” for opioids. And such reductions in opioid prescription could free up over $1 billion federal taxpayer dollars that could be used for treatment and prevention.[5]

* Access to medical cannabis is associated with fewer opioid-related fatalities: A 2014 JAMA Internal Medicine study found states with medical cannabis programs saw a nearly 25% reduction in opioid fatalities.[6] The federally-funded study above also found opioid fatality reductions. And, a 2016 Columbia University paper concluded that medical cannabis laws “are associated with reductions in opioid positivity among 21- to 40-year-old fatally injured drivers and may reduce opioid use and overdose.”[7]

[1] National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, available at: https://www.nap.edu/read/24625/chapter/6.

[2] Franklin GM. Opioids for chronic noncancer pain, Neurology September 30, 2014 vol. 83 no. 14 1277–1284, doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1212/WNL.0000000000000839.

[3] National Institute on Drug Abuse, Is Marijuana Safe and Effective as Medicine?. Available at: https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/marijuana/marijuana-safe-effective-medicine. Accessed 6/9/2017.

[4] Powell D, Pacula RL, Jacobson M. Do Medical Marijuana Laws Reduce Addiction and Deaths Related to Pain Killers? RAND Corporation; 2015. http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/working_papers/WR1100/WR1130/RAND_WR1130.pdf.

[5] Bradford AC, Bradford WD. Medical Marijuana Laws May Be Associated With A Decline In The Number Of Prescriptions For Medicaid Enrollees. Health Affairs. April 2017, available at: http://content.healthaffairs.org/content/early/2017/04/13/hlthaff.2016.1135.

[6] Bachhuber MA, Saloner B, Cunningham CO, Barry CL. Medical Cannabis Laws and Opioid Analgesic Overdose Mortality in the United States, 1999–2010. JAMA Intern Med. 2014;174(10):1668–1673. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.4005, available at: http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/1898878.

[7] Kim JH, et al. State Medical Marijuana Laws and the Prevalence of Opioids Detected Among Fatally Injured Drivers. Am J Public Health .2016;106:2032–2037. doi:10.2105/, available at: http://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/pdf/10.2105/AJPH.2016.303426.

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