Two more studies find access to cannabis lessens opioid use

Matt Saintsing
April 03, 2018 - 11:29 am

Experts have advised expanding access to marijuana to help Americans struggling with opioid addiction. Two new studies suggest there’s merit to that idea.

Published Monday in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, are studies comparing opioid prescription rates in states that have medical marijuana laws with those that have not.

In the first study, two researchers at the University of Kentucky and Emory University found that the implementation of medical and recreational cannabis laws were followed by drops in Medicaid opiate prescription rates.

“Marijuana is one of the potential alternative drugs that can provide relief from pain at a relatively lower risk of addiction and virtually no risk of overdose,” authors of the study Hefei Wen and Jason Hockenberry wrote.

“These findings suggest that medical and adult-use marijuana laws have the potential to reduce opioid prescribing for Medicaid enrollees, a segment of population with disproportionately high risk for chronic pain, opioid use disorder and opioid overdose.”

In other words, state-sanctioned access to cannabis may be a crucial part of attacking the opioid epidemic, a crisis that hits veterans twice as hard as non-veteranss.

In the second study, scientists at the University of Georgia concluded that, at the state level, medical marijuana programs were correlated with a 8.5 percent reduction in the number of opioid prescriptions filled under Medicare. Drops in opioid doses were even more pronounced (14 percent) in states where medical marijuana dispensaries can be found.

States and jurisdictions where people are free to grow and consume marijuana saw nearly a 7 percent reduction.

These studies suggest that when it comes to combating opioid use and abuse, the more pot the better.

These two studies are the latest in a growing body of academic literature that suggests cannabis isn’t the sinister “gateway drug” we were all led to believe. Instead, regulated marijuana markets and programs can be just one tool in a policy package that can lessen the harm of prescription opioids that can prove fatal.

While most of the recent studies seek to investigate the connection medical marijuana has to opioid consumption, the one coming out of Georgia is among the first to find a link between recreational cannabis and opiate use rates.

There is prevalent agreement in the medical and public health communities that marijuana can be effective in treating chronic pain, an ailment associated with higher opioid use and military service.

Last month, President Donald Trump unveiled his plan to deal with the nationwide opioid crisis that took over 42,000 lives in 2016. Part of his plan called on scientists to “come up with a painkiller that’s not so addictive.”

These latest studies suggest that such a “painkiller” already exists—and we call it marijuana.

29 states, plus the District of Columbia, have medical marijuana laws on the books.

Trump’s Justice Department, however, has taken hardline stance against states that have expanded marijuana. In January, the department rescinded an Obama-era policy of noninterference for state-sanctioned cannabis industries.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has expressed interest in prosecuting some medical marijuana providers, but that hasn’t happened yet.

But, if the latest research on cannabis is any indication, these policies may actually worsen the opioid epidemic, a crisis that disproportionately effects the lives of veterans.