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Opioid Use and Fatalities Decrease in States with Legalized Medical Marijuana

August 1, 2019 • Lakewood Medical • Pain Relief

Recent research suggests that medical marijuana laws have a positive impact on opioid use and on deaths related to overdose on opioids. But it’s not just about legalization — laws must make medical marijuana accessible as well as legal. The nation is finally beginning to grapple with its opioid problem. After the president declared a national health emergency over opioid addiction in October 2017, the National Institute of Health (NIH) unveiled its HEAL initiative. HEAL’s top priorities for combatting the crisis would be providing wider access to recovery resources and supporting research that could discover better ways of managing pain. As we’ve written in the past, many experts believe medical marijuana could effectively be used to offset the risk of opioid addiction among patients dealing with chronic pain. Now, there’s research that explicitly supports this idea on a state-wide scale — a study from the Journal of Health Economics has found that states with medical cannabis laws prescribe opioid dosages to citizens per day, as well as see fewer opioid overdoses. The NIH and organizations working to stem this health crisis must continue to research marijuana’s potential as an aid in treating chronic pain.

A Substitute for Opioids?

The Journal study is careful to specify that broad access to dispensaries is necessary for cannabis to become a viable substitute for or supplement to opioids. It notes that “as states have become more stringent in their regulation of dispensaries, the protective value generally has fallen.”  While previous research has indicated that cannabis has the potential to fill part of the role that addictive opioids have played in pain treatment in the past, this study suggests that for this potential to play out on a larger scale, access to the drug must be made relatively easy.  Another study conducted by JAMA Internal Medicine drew similar conclusions, finding that not just opioids, but pain medications in general are used and prescribed less often through Medicare in states where medical marijuana has been legalized.  The researchers admitted that their discovery was a correlation, and that they could not prove marijuana directly caused patients’ decision to request fewer opioids. it’s clear they have a real potential to ease addiction. Nevertheless, study author W. David Bradford of the University of Georgia notes that the legalization of dispensaries causes “substantial reduction is opioid use.”

Stemming Opioid-Related Deaths 

In Ohio, where opioid-related deaths are among the highest in the nation, medical marijuana’s potential as a substitute for opioids could save hundreds of lives. Because it has anti-inflammatory properties, cannabis can be used to treat multiple kinds of pain, though different cannabinoids are more appropriate for responding to different kinds of pain. Though marijuana’s chemical mechanism is different from that of opioid painkillers, it has a similarly dynamic ability to effectively respond to the forms of pain that drugs like oxycodone are used to treat. Though Ohio made the decision to legalize medical marijuana, it will have to make sure dispensaries are common and accessible before they see the policy make an impact on their opioid problem. Ensuring this is the case will take cooperation between private vendors, medical professionals, and public sector organizations like the NIH to ensure this potential recovery resource is made widely available.  If you’re suffering with chronic pain in Ohio and want to know if medical marijuana could be part of a beneficial course of treatment for you, there are resources available to you that make it easy to learn more. Reach out to the Lakewood Medical Clinic and schedule a consultation with one of our clinicians to help you determine the right path towards resolving your struggle with pain while mitigating or eliminating the risks involved in taking opioid drugs.