While President Donald Trump has declared the opioid crisis clutching the United States to be a national emergency, there are glimmers of hope to aid in its reversal. The Chicago Tribune has reported that a 2014 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) indicates that, on average, opioid overdose mortality rates are nearly 25% lower in states that have legalized medical marijuana than in states that have yet to legalize cannabis for medicinal use.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that in 2015 over 30,000 deaths were attributed to opioid drugs. Since 2002 this number has increased 2.8 fold. In a country that has just 5% of the world’s population, CNN reported that the United States consumes 75% of the world’s opioid prescriptions. As America faces this growing opioid epidemic there is an urgent need to find alternative methods of pain management for patients with chronic pain and those experiencing severe pain. Cannabis advocates and progressive doctors have touted the pain relieving benefits of medical marijuana for years. Pro cannabis doctors, nurses and patients have helped to sway public opinion enough so that marijuana for medicinal use has been legalized in many states. This important legislation allows patients to use medicinal cannabis for chronic pain as well as a variety of other ailments.
Although these more progressive states have allowed the use of medical marijuana for its pain managing effects and many doctors and patients have seen the benefits, further research is essential to inform federal policy. Especially as the US opioid crisis seems to be spiraling out of control. According to a recent report on CNBC, drug overdose rates in the US topped 60,000 people in 2016. Apparently opioids such as Fentanyl, 50-100 times stronger than morphine, are largely to blame for the increase in deaths due to drug overdose.
As much as cannabis research is needed to help curb American’s opiate appetite, currently it is nearly impossible to study medical marijuana in the United States because it remains classified as a Schedule I drug, with “no recognized medicinal value.”
In a Harvard Medical Study that studied pain in patients, it was found that 90% of those tested indicated that using medical marijuana helped reduce their pain. More importantly, it was noted that 81% of the patients indicated a lower likelihood of using opioid medications for the same symptoms. Furthermore, according to a survey of nearly 3,000 patients done by the Center for Medical Cannabis Education, Bastyr University Research Institute, and the Department of Medical Research, Center for the Study of Cannabis and Social Policy, nearly 36% of them indicated that they had eliminated their opioid medications in exchange for medical marijuana.
As you can see, various studies have pointed to the benefits of replacing opioids with medical marijuana for pain relief. As the U.S. opioid crisis continues to develop, it is more important than ever that labs, educational institutions and the United States government conduct more research. We as a society, need to do whatever we can to help stem the tidal wave of deaths caused by opioid overdose.
Do you know someone who was prescribed opioid medication and is currently addicted? If so, have you spoken with them about the pain relieving benefits of medical marijuana?
Please share this information with your physician to be absolutely certain that he or she understands the medicinal benefits of cannabis. It’s particularly important to share this information with patients as well. That way, the decision making power resides with the patient, as it should be.