Marijuana Versus Opioid Abuse

Marijuana may seem to be taking over the headlines today, with new laws and policies regarding it frequently making news. In fact, it is legal under state law to purchase marijuana for some medical treatments in 31 states. Although it is just now making legal waves in the United States, cannabis treated and managed pain around the world for hundreds of years.

Meanwhile, opioid drug use is up. This is because of an influx of prescribed painkillers. In fact, statistics state opioid addiction kills up to 91 Americans a day. There have been no reported overdoses on marijuana, on the other hand.

The good news is that several drug makers are conducting research and taking the steps toward developing cannabis-based painkillers as alternatives to opioids, which are susceptible to addiction and withdrawal symptoms. Marijuana plants contain THC and CBD, two natural painkillers that do not typically lead to withdrawal symptoms.

What Do the Scientific Studies Say?

Extensive research suggests that cannabis use may help people with opioid addictions with withdrawal symptoms after quitting an opiate. Multiple studies show states that regulate medical marijuana report fewer opiate addiction deaths, according to Reuters.

The Journal of the American Medical Association Network published an extensive study detailing the trends in opioid prescriptions under Medicaid, an insurer covering low-income citizens.

Statistics indicate that, in the states that allow medical marijuana, there was a 6% percent decrease in opioid prescription use between 2011 and 2016. States with legal recreational marijuana laws brought an additional 6% drop. The number of states where medical marijuana is legal has been increasing since the research has taken place.

A similar study involving Medicare patients yielded even better results. States that allowed medical marijuana had 14% fewer opioid prescriptions among Medicare patients. States that only allowed patients to grow marijuana plants showed 7% fewer opioid prescriptions.

What Does This Mean for Opioid Addictions?

It is only in the last few years that prescriptions for marijuana for medical purposes have been legal in many countries. As we have seen with the opioid epidemic in this country, just because a doctor prescribes a medication doesn’t always mean that it is safe. With both opioids and cannabis, there is a risk of addiction, especially if misused.

Prescription of cannabis-based medicines, however, may offer a path forward for lowering the opioid dependence epidemic in this country. Because of marijuana’s classification as a dangerous substance, approval for a marijuana-based treatment for recovering opioid addicts by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) could take years. FDA-approved cannabis painkillers could provide consistent dosing, potency, and regulations, and could lead to fewer addiction deaths around the nation.

Understanding the Marijuana & Opioid Laws

Massachusetts passed laws allowing the use of medical marijuana in 2013. As of December 2016, residents may possess up to one ounce of marijuana outside their residence and 10 ounces inside their residence for recreational use as well. Massachusetts residents may grow up to six marijuana plants at their residence and may even give up to one ounce to another adult without payment.

The DEA outlines the classification of drugs based on schedules of allowed use. The schedules range from I to V with Schedule I drugs having no known medical benefit and a high risk of addiction. The federal government still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug. Opioids are a Schedule II drug. This is the highest classification a drug may receive while remaining legally perceivable. The risk of addiction to opioids is very high, while the federal government recognizes the medical benefit these drugs provide.

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