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The Evidence Is In: Legal Marijuana Could Help Solve The Opioid Crisis

A green glimmer of hope.

CARLY CASSELLA
5 APR 2018
 

There's more to legal weed than just, like, getting baked, dude. Two papers published this week suggest access to legal marijuana could play a beneficial role in the current US opioid crisis.

 

The new research suggests that in states with legalized weed - whether recreational or medical - the number of opioid prescriptions and the daily dose of opioids have gone way down.

One of the studies found that Medicare filled 14 percent fewer prescriptions for opioids after medical marijuana laws were passed.

The other study revealed people with Medicaid filled nearly 40 fewer opioid prescriptions per 1,000 people each year after their state passed any law making cannabis accessible.

Together, the papers suggest that patients and/or doctors are inclined to move away from opioids when marijuana treatment is presented as a legal alternative.

But not all marijuana laws are made equal. The second study also found that states with recreational cannabis laws saw a greater drop in opioid prescriptions than states with just medical marijuana laws.

Furthermore, those states with open marijuana shops were two times more successful in decreasing opioid prescriptions than states without active dispensaries - because it's way easier to substitute marijuana for opioids if the patient doesn't have to grow it themselves.

The two new studies are buttressed by a study in 2014 that found nearly 25 percent fewer deaths from opioid overdoses in states with medical marijuana laws.

 

In a time when the misuse of opioids causes more than 115 Americans to die every day, all three of these studies shed a green glimmer of hope.

"In this time when we are so concerned — rightly so — about opiate misuse and abuse and the mortality that's occurring, we need to be clear-eyed and use evidence to drive our policies," said author of one of the studies W. David Bradford.

"If you're interested in giving people options for pain management that don't bring the particular risks that opiates do, states should contemplate turning on dispensary-based cannabis policies."

But while President Trump has declared the opioid crisis a Nationwide Public Health Emergency, his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, does not like the idea of legal weed.

As a consequence, this year, the Justice Department lifted an Obama-era policy that discouraged US authorities from cracking down on pot.

And just this week, US law enforcement seized over 100 homes in Sacramento, California for taking part in marijuana-growing operations.

"I know policymakers are often skeptical of cannabis. But we need to be terrified of things like fentanyl, and we need to be willing to use evidence-based approaches to help address that," said Bradford.

"Cannabis looks like it could be one."

The first study and the second study were published in JAMA Internal Medicine.