Legal Medical Cannabis Lowers Opioid Abuse Rates

In states that allow citizens access to marijuana as medicine, the rates of opioid abuse are significantly lower. That’s according to a recent study conducted by Castlight Health, a workers’ health benefits provider.pillswhite

Researchers dove into five years’ worth of prescription abuse information reported anonymously by employees.

What they found was this:

  • In states that did not allow workers to have access to medical marijuana, 5.4 percent of those who were taking opioid medications were deemed “abusers” of that drug.
  • In states that did allow workers access to medicinal cannabis, just 2.8 percent of those taking opioid drugs were deemed “abusers.”

Those who conducted the study identified “abuse” among opioid users as a person who:

  • Was not receiving other care for pain relief;
  • Received a greater than three-month supply of the drugs;
  • Got opioid prescriptions from four or more doctors.

This research mirrors another released last July by the RAND Corporation and The University of California. Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine, that study showed the passage of state-level medical marijuana laws is associated with exponentially lower opioid overdose and death rates. Overall, researchers found that states that approved medical marijuana showed nearly 25 percent fewer opioid-related deaths.

Findings like these are huge when we consider the scope of the opioid problem. In 1999, the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported an estimated 4,100 opioid-related deaths. By 2010, that figure had shot up to nearly 17,000, and it’s continued to grow over since.

There are some 260 million opioid prescriptions written in the U.S. every year. That’s enough for every adult in America to have his or her own bottle. It’s estimated that 2 million Americans suffer from prescription opioid abuse and addiction. The fall-out of this is a $56 billion burden on the U.S. economy in terms of wrongful death, lost production, criminal justice resources and more.

It’s estimated that 1 in 5 people in the U.S. live with chronic pain. A significant portion of these suffer from a type of pain known as neuropathic pain, or nerve-related pain. It’s associated with a number of different diseases such as HIV, cancer, diabetes and multiple sclerosis. Many of these patients in states that allow medical marijuana report that it is very effective in helping to manage their pain, which allows them to continue to lead productive, fulfilling lives.

On the other hand, in states that do not allow the drug, many take some combination of opioids, conventional pain relievers and other drugs. The side effects of all this includes an increased risk of stroke, heart attack, erectile dysfunction and accidental overdose.

McGill University in 2010 conducted a study that analyzed the effect of marijuana on pain, anxiety and sleep quality. All of those given cannabis showed marked improvements in these three areas.

Research like this can be a powerful tool in the fight for legalization of marijuana across the country. For example The Cleveland Plain Dealer in Ohio recently published an article titled, “Could medical marijuana solve Ohio’s opioid problem?”

There is no dispute among medical doctors that marijuana is safer than opioids. Because it is also known as an effective pain medication for certain conditions, the solution seems obvious.

The Los Angeles CANNABIS LAW Group represents growers, dispensaries, collectives, patients and those facing marijuana charges. Call us at 714-937-2050.

Additional Resources:

The Opioid Crisis in America’s Workforce, May 2016, Castlight Health

More Blog Entries:

Whoopi Goldberg may Lose Job on View over Medical Marijuana Business, April 15, 2016, L.A. Marijuana Lawyer Blog