Health & Wellbeing

Could legal recreational marijuana help solve the opioid crisis?

Could legal recreational marij...
New research suggests opioid use has dropped in states that pass medical or recreational marijuana laws
New research suggests opioid use has dropped in states that pass medical or recreational marijuana laws
View 1 Image
New research suggests opioid use has dropped in states that pass medical or recreational marijuana laws
1/1
New research suggests opioid use has dropped in states that pass medical or recreational marijuana laws

Two new studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association are adding weight to the argument that cannabis legalization can significantly reduce opioid consumption. The research found that when states legalize marijuana, either medicinal or recreational, a drop in opioid prescriptions can result.

Both studies looked at the number of opioid prescriptions filled over a five-year period across several US states that passed medical and/or recreational marijuana laws. The results identified a significant drop in opioid prescriptions whenever medical marijuana laws went into effect. Opioid prescription rates dropped even further in states that moved from medical marijuana laws into broader recreational laws.

"Some of the states we analyzed had medical cannabis laws throughout the five-year study period, some never had medical cannabis, and some enacted medical cannabis laws during those five years," says W. David Bradford, co-author on one of the studies. "So, what we were able to do is ask what happens to physician behavior in terms of their opiate prescribing if and when medical cannabis becomes available."

While these are still only observational correlations, the researchers are confident the drops in opioid prescriptions can be related to the introduction of legal marijuana. No observations of reductions in rates of non-opioid prescriptions were identified during the study.

"We examined prescription rates for non-opioid drugs such as blood thinners, flu medications and phosphorus stimulants, and we saw no change," says Ashley Bradford, lead author of the study with David Bradford. "Medical cannabis wouldn't be an effective treatment for flu or for anemia, so we feel pretty confident that the changes we see in opioids are because of cannabis because there is a legitimate medical use."

Prior research has effectively found that marijuana is an effective pain relief medication. A 2017 study examining the efficacy of marijuana as a direct replacement for opioid pain medication surveyed nearly 3000 medical marijuana patients. A stunning 97 percent of subjects either agreed or strongly agreed that marijuana helps them decrease the amount of opiates they consume, and 81 percent agreed or strongly agreed that marijuana alone was more effective than marijuana in combination with an opioid.

Not everyone is convinced by the idea that legalized marijuana can positively affect opioid consumption rates. A long-standing argument suggests that marijuana in fact results in a person being more likely to develop an opioid use disorder. While this may seem like a new spin on the classic "gateway drug" idea, a recent study did in fact conclude that marijuana use does correlate with an increase in the risk of non-medical prescription opioid use.

These studies do seem to be outweighed by research suggesting the contrary though. A great deal of study over the past few years continues to find that when medical marijuana laws are passed in a state, opiate usage drops. Of course, it is important to note that all of these studies are simply revealing a correlation, and not causation, but considering there is evidence showing cannabinoid and opioid receptor systems trigger similar brain signaling pathways, this is not an unreasonable association to observe.

At the very least, it seems like medical marijuana can play a part in helping tackle the dramatic opioid crisis that is currently sweeping the United States.

"Our findings suggest quite clearly that medical cannabis could be one useful tool in the policy arsenal that can be used to diminish the harm of prescription opioids, and that's worthy of serious consideration," says Bradford.

The two new research papers were published in JAMA (1) (2).

Source: University of Georgia

Two new studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association are adding weight to the argument that cannabis legalization can significantly reduce opioid consumption. The research found that when states legalize marijuana, either medicinal or recreational, a drop in opioid prescriptions can result.

Both studies looked at the number of opioid prescriptions filled over a five-year period across several US states that passed medical and/or recreational marijuana laws. The results identified a significant drop in opioid prescriptions whenever medical marijuana laws went into effect. Opioid prescription rates dropped even further in states that moved from medical marijuana laws into broader recreational laws.

"Some of the states we analyzed had medical cannabis laws throughout the five-year study period, some never had medical cannabis, and some enacted medical cannabis laws during those five years," says W. David Bradford, co-author on one of the studies. "So, what we were able to do is ask what happens to physician behavior in terms of their opiate prescribing if and when medical cannabis becomes available."

While these are still only observational correlations, the researchers are confident the drops in opioid prescriptions can be related to the introduction of legal marijuana. No observations of reductions in rates of non-opioid prescriptions were identified during the study.

"We examined prescription rates for non-opioid drugs such as blood thinners, flu medications and phosphorus stimulants, and we saw no change," says Ashley Bradford, lead author of the study with David Bradford. "Medical cannabis wouldn't be an effective treatment for flu or for anemia, so we feel pretty confident that the changes we see in opioids are because of cannabis because there is a legitimate medical use."

Prior research has effectively found that marijuana is an effective pain relief medication. A 2017 study examining the efficacy of marijuana as a direct replacement for opioid pain medication surveyed nearly 3000 medical marijuana patients. A stunning 97 percent of subjects either agreed or strongly agreed that marijuana helps them decrease the amount of opiates they consume, and 81 percent agreed or strongly agreed that marijuana alone was more effective than marijuana in combination with an opioid.

Not everyone is convinced by the idea that legalized marijuana can positively affect opioid consumption rates. A long-standing argument suggests that marijuana in fact results in a person being more likely to develop an opioid use disorder. While this may seem like a new spin on the classic "gateway drug" idea, a recent study did in fact conclude that marijuana use does correlate with an increase in the risk of non-medical prescription opioid use.

These studies do seem to be outweighed by research suggesting the contrary though. A great deal of study over the past few years continues to find that when medical marijuana laws are passed in a state, opiate usage drops. Of course, it is important to note that all of these studies are simply revealing a correlation, and not causation, but considering there is evidence showing cannabinoid and opioid receptor systems trigger similar brain signaling pathways, this is not an unreasonable association to observe.

At the very least, it seems like medical marijuana can play a part in helping tackle the dramatic opioid crisis that is currently sweeping the United States.

"Our findings suggest quite clearly that medical cannabis could be one useful tool in the policy arsenal that can be used to diminish the harm of prescription opioids, and that's worthy of serious consideration," says Bradford.

The two new research papers were published in JAMA (1) (2).

Source: University of Georgia

7 comments
Kevon Lindenberg
Good thing we got peer reviewed papers to back it up. It's not like we haven't known this since the Shafer Commission in the 70's..... ;)
zr2s10
It would be more effective to tighten conditions that doctors are allowed to prescribe opiates. I'm actually not against marijuana, but too often doctors jump to opiates instead of making people tough it out with some ibuprofen or aspirin. I went to MedExpress one time, and the doctor there tried to give me a prescription for Vicodin THREE TIMES in 5 minutes. When I had already told him that I was only taking Ibuprofen sparingly. Obviously they've either been directed to push them, or they've just gotten to comfortable using it as a cure-all for pain. I've never gone back there.
CzechsterMarek
Over several decades Congress and special interest have successfully blocked cannabis from the citizens all to keep money flowing into the politician's pockets from special interest. If man will not accept science then Politicians will continue to control the masses with their propaganda and Law Enforcement.
Wolf0579
If you have a relative who died as a result of opioids, you can thank the following lobbying groups for the continued prohibition of what is probably the most medically useful plant that we currently know of. 1. The Pharmaceutical Lobby. 2. The Alcohol Lobby 3. The Law Enforcement Officers' lobby I used to have a little brother. Thanks to opioids, I no longer do. I will never forgive the industries involved in keeping this miracle plant illegal.
akarp
Yes, cannabis can help people reduce their Rx usage…and it is far cheaper. (Hence why it has been banned for so long in this country). Not to mention cannabis is only 1 plant of many thousands with huge medicinal benefits. I personally use kratom for my low back pain (resultant of herniated discs, L5 and S1). If you have serious pain, fibromyalgia, sciatic nerve pain, or other, look up ‘kratom’ at Etha Live Fully. CBD helps with pain and inflammation, but this is nothing and I mean NOTHING compared to kratom.
Tom Lee Mullins
I read that marijuana was an introductory drug. There are reports that marijuana is worse than smoking. Legalizing it will only make it worse; IMO.
christopher
Where's the study on the spike in schizophrenia caused by THC and its impact on families and society? Those crazy people with their brains scrambled ruin the lives of so many around them...