Can Marijuana Legalization Combat Opioid Addiction?

Opioid abuse — the dangerous habitual use of synthetic drugs derived from opium — has been a subject of regular discussion in the United States in recent times. It has become increasingly difficult to not take notice of the toll it is taking on thousands of lives.

Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control highlight the alarming increase in deaths attributed to opioids like fentanyl. One report shows that these deaths rose by over 72 percent between 2014 and 2015 — and it’s likely that the trend has only continued since that time.

After the opioid crisis finally captured the nation’s attention, authorities and average Americans alike are asking the obvious: How do we put an end to thousands of needless deaths? The answer, it turns out, could be even simpler than anyone imagined.

A recently published long-term chronic pain study finds that patients who switched from prescription opioids to medical marijuana were, unsurprisingly, less inclined to continue using opioids.

The researchers discovered that individuals prescribed medical marijuana experienced, on average, a 47 percent reduction in daily opioid use over a 21-month period. By comparison, the control group — those who only used opioids — saw their average daily opioid use increase by more than 10 percent.

The following chart illustrates these trends rather starkly: The orange line represents the control group — opioids only — while the blue line represents those prescribed medical marijuana.

via Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine

Credit: Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine

While opioids are notoriously habit-forming, there’s still no scientific proof that marijuana use leads to chemical addiction. There are also no documented instances of marijuana-related deaths, whereas opioids claimed over 33,000 American lives in 2015 alone.

The study also found that using medical marijuana for pain management results in a dramatic increase in quality of life. Overall, 65 percent of patients reported that the switch led to a “great benefit” in this area.

This graph clearly illustrates these dramatic changes:

via Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine

Credit: Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine

But even if medical marijuana is superior to prescription opioids for chronic pain patients, not all opioid abusers fall into this category. After all, many acquire these drugs illegally — often through theft of legal prescriptions.

Even temporary opioid prescriptions can be habit-forming, leading addicts to seek out alternative ways to get their fix.

Put simply, legalizing medical marijuana could put a major dent in the opioid crisis plaguing the naiton. But as it stands now, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug, along substances like heroin, quaaludes and bath salts.

A recent Care2 report tells the story of 12-year-old Alexis Bortell. Her family moved from Texas to Colorado to gain access to legal marijuana in the hopes of managing Bortell’s frequent and severe seizures. And since beginning treatment, her parents say that the seizures have vanished.

Now Bortell’s family is suing the Department of Justice and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to make medical marijuana legal nationwide.

Unfortunately, this may be an uphill battle. Even before being nominated to head up the Department of Justice, Sessions had made it clear that he staunchly opposes any legalization of marijuana. Despite the fact that 64 percent of Americans disagree with Sessions’ stance, the attorney general is chomping at the bit to punish those supplying legal medical marijuana, as revealed in a letter he sent to Congress in May.

Why, then, is Sessions demonstrably more concerned about marijuana use than about the thousands of opioid deaths occurring every year? At the risk of sounding sounding cynical, his reasoning not difficult to grasp: Legalizing marijuana is against the interests of the highly profitable pharmaceutical industry.

As this recent study shows, access to marijuana leads to decreased dependency on prescription opioids — and that’s not good for business, even if it would save countless lives.

Photo Credit: Maryland GovPics/Flickr

49 comments

Colin Clauscen
Colin Clauscenabout a month ago

Of course cannabis should be legal for mature adults

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Marie W
Marie W1 months ago

thanks for sharing

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Joanna M
Joanna M6 months ago

Accurate media portrayal is a huge part of the overall picture! Please sign and share... https://www.thepetitionsite.com/665/203/305/tell-nbc-and-this-is-us-writers-stop-hurting-chronic-pain-patients/

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Joanna M
Joanna M6 months ago

Widespread addiction via prescription opioids is a myth - only about 4 percent of patients become addicted to medication their doctor prescribed legitimately for pain. The rest are people using opioids NOT prescribed to them, i.e. buying pills on the street or using someone else's, or harder street drugs like heroin. The misconceptions that are currently being spread only serve to further stigmatize and hurt people already living with chronic pain, who only want some semblance of normalcy.

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Nicole Heindryckx
Nicole H7 months ago

@ Virgene L : I am 100 % sure that you never had severe lower back pain. After 2 surgeries, my pain had not dropped with even 10 %. Then countless number of other treatments were tested, and with some I had about 10/15 % less pain, with others no release at all. Would you like to spend your life at 57/58 lying in your sofa / bed / relax seat 24 hrs a day, with a pain score of 8 to 9 ??? I don't think so. Now my pain is reduced to 6 on my "good" days and to 8 on my bad days. So, as my good days are sometimes up to 7 or 8 days, I can guarantee you that I am very happy that I can use fentanyl to ease my pain. I would advise you to talk about matters you know something about. thank you !!

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Nicole Heindryckx
Nicole H7 months ago

I must admit I am always surprised that apparently so many Americans get addicted to opioids, prescribed for chronic pain treatment. 9,5 years ago, I had to lift a disabled, half paralyzed man weighing 123 kilos. Taking him out of bed, bringing and washing him in the shower, drying and clothing him, and putting him again in his wheel chair. How many times I had to lift him up and put him down : uncountable. Since then I suffer from very severe lower back pain, for which I use fentanyl. In the beginning, I had effectively the need to use more and more of it, but at a certain moment I got to a reasonable quantity, and since 4 years now, I have daily the same quantity. I even never have a need to use more. On the contrary. On days that I feel somewhat better, I sometimes forget to take my pills at 17.30 hrs., and then see it always in the evening, around 22/23.00 hrs. when I go to bed. As Fentanyl here and in the U.S. is the same, I do not see why there is so many addiction. Anyway, I will have to continue with the Fentanyl, as marijuana is not legalized in Belgium, even not for medical purposes.. Why ?? They have no serious answer..

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donald Baumgartner
donald Baumgartner7 months ago

I don't believe so, but who knows ????

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Just H
Just Human7 months ago

Cannabis has many benefits not the least of which is pain management. If someone can avoid opiates I don't see that as a bad thing. I live in a state where cannabis is legal. I haven't seen society fall and I certainly don't see more people smoking in public after the laws changed. Also, CBD is being found to be very helpful. IMHO, no plant should be illegal in its raw form.

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Winn A
Winn A7 months ago

tks

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Winn A
Winn A7 months ago

Noted

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