Medical Cannabis Could Be the Solution to the Opiate Epidemic


For ages, medical marijuana activists have suggested that medical marijuana is not only safer than opiates but more effective as a long-term solution to chronic pain – and many patients agree, even suggesting that medical cannabis has helped them to reduce or eliminate the use of opiates in their lives.

Previous studies have suggested that these statements are very true, finding that in states where medical marijuana is legal, prescription opiate use has dropped significantly (as well as other prescriptions that may be replaced by medical marijuana such as those of epilepsy and Parkinson’s for example). As a result of that, these studies found that there are less opioid-related deaths and overdoses in states where medical marijuana is available.

“Medical marijuana legalization was associated with 23% and 13% reductions in hospitalizations related to opioid dependence or abuse and [opioid pain reliever] OPR overdose, respectively; lagged effects were observed after policy implementation.”

A more recent study goes with a slightly different route, looking at the number of hospitalizations that were considered related between the years of 1997 and 2014, during which time many of the states with legal medical marijuana passed their laws and implemented their programs. The University of California researchers found an interesting trend – not only a reduction in opiate-related hospitalizations but also no increase in cannabis-related ones. Also, the longer medical marijuana was available, the more the number of hospitalizations dropped.

“This study demonstrated significant reductions on OPR- (opioid pain reliever) related hospitalizations associated with the implementation of medical marijuana policies. … We found reductions in OPR-related hospitalizations immediately after the year of policy implementation as well as delayed reductions in the third post-policy year.“

This evidence clearly suggests that rather than causing the opiate epidemic, cannabis is actually helping to save people from it. Some states are even trying to get opiate addiction added to the list of qualifying conditions for medical cannabis – although it’s a tough sell to lawmakers who are still so uncertain of how to go about this issue. However, every state that allows medical cannabis for chronic pain is one more that will likely see thousands of lives saved when a safer alternative is finally available to those who need it.

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