Marijuana Legalization Reduces Opioid Use, Studies Show

Two new studies show that US states which have legalized marijuana have fewer opioid prescriptions, suggesting that marijuana may be one solution to the US opioid crisis.

The research, published in tandem in the science journal Jama Internal Medicine looked at opioid prescriptions for patients on Medicare and Medicaid in US states that have legalized marijuana for medical use.

Research has consistently shown that marijuana can be used to treat chronic pain, and 29 states have now legalized it for medical purposes. There is no research directly comparing the effectiveness of marijuana and opioids for pain relief, but opioids carry significant addiction and overdose risks, and their effectiveness has been called into question.

As a result, researchers have been keen to see if marijuana could provide a relatively safe alternative to opioids and drive down demand.

The first study on marijuana legalization and opioid use looked at Medicaid recipients, so it dealt primarily with people over are 65 seeking pain relief. Overall, researchers found a 14 percent reduction in opioid prescriptions if states allowed for easy access to medical marijuana.

In terms of real-world impact, the researchers estimate that could have reduced opioid use by 3.7 million daily doses.

“This study adds one more brick in the wall in the argument that cannabis clearly has medical applications,” Researcher David Bradford, of the University of Georgia told CNN,  “And for pain patients in particular, our work adds to the argument that cannabis can be effective.”

Bradford also points out that medical marijuana on its own has little to no mortality risk, unlike opioids.

The second study looked at marijuana use and opioid prescriptions among participants in the Medicaid program.

The researchers, led by Hefei Wen, assistant professor of health management and policy at the University of Kentucky College of Public Health, analyzed opioid prescriptions between 2011 and 2016 for Medicaid enrollees. They then cross-referenced this with which states have legalized medical marijuana.

The researchers saw a 5.88 percent reduction in opioid prescriptions. That might sound like a modest drop, but it is still statistically significant. In addition, states that allow for recreational marijuana use saw an average 6.4 percent annual decrease on opioid prescriptions.

These studies are both identifying a casual link and are not saying that marijuana is the sole factor driving down opioid prescriptions. Certainly, attention on the opioid crisis and opioid deaths may also have played a part.

This isn’t the first time this association has come up though. In 2014, a study found that, “Medical cannabis laws are associated with significantly lower state-level opioid overdose mortality rates.”

This pattern is repeating itself in the data, and experts say it’s time we took notice.

“As somebody who treats patients with opioid use disorders, this crisis is very real. These patients die every day, and it’s quite shocking in many ways,” Dr. Kevin Hill, an addiction psychiatrist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and someone who was not involved in these studies told CNN.

What can these studies tell us?

The Trump administration has “talked tough” on driving down opioid deaths. However, at the same time Jeff Sessions has waged a war on marijuana legalization.

These studies point to the fact that medical marijuana could make a real and lasting dent in opioid prescriptions, something that would drive down addiction risk, and thereby could cut opioid overdose fatalities.

The sum total of this information is clear: if the White House really wants to tackle the opioid crisis, it has a readily available tool in the form of legalizing medical marijuana access. It needs to act now and stop its senseless battle with states that have already taken this evidence-backed  step.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

57 comments

Marie W
Marie W5 months ago

thanks for sharing

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Myla D
Myla D10 months ago

this is common sense
LEGALIZE IT!!
Pot will save the world. And r debt that r wonderful government has got us in will b gone. Why is alcohol legal and marijuana isn’t... look into opioid addicts ask them if they use alcohol when they r in need. The answer is yes (not all- but u get my drift).
U don’t have to smoke it to use it. Edibles and so many other ways to use. We need to open r eyes and stop this nonsense w criminalizing ppl for using marijuana to help them whichever issue their having. It’s a cure all for so so many physical and mental ailments. There is also CBD that has NO THC in it. It’s a miracle for children w epilepsy. Let’s help ppl not hinder because of fear. Fear of what- is what I want to know......

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Ellie M
Ellie M10 months ago

ty

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Winn A
Winn A10 months ago

Thanks

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Winn A
Winn A10 months ago

Noted

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Cathy B
Cathy B10 months ago

Thank you.

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Roberto M
Roberto MARINI10 months ago

this is an interesting news, many thanks

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Chrissie R
Chrissie R10 months ago

Alea C is right. Marijuana will be used more by "productive" society than opiates, but will they retain their productivity?

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Danii P
Past Member 10 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Rosslyn O
Rosslyn O10 months ago

Yes I find it amazing that our countries are so slow to allow medical natural herbs and plants to be available to those who need it yet prop up drug companies. It is all money!

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