Cannabis is becoming more accepted within the medical community today. As legalization opens up the recreational market, more states are reconsidering their stance on medical marijuana as well.
In most places, legalization of cannabis for medical purposes occurs before recreational legalization. Nonetheless, there are still many places that consider medical marijuana too experimental to have a real impact on the healthcare field.
Emerging research is changing this outlook. Medical cannabis is legal in Canada, as well as in several US states. Some of the current research is indicating how cannabis could be used to counter the opioid crisis.
What Is the Opioid Crisis?
The opioid crisis has slowly blossomed into an epidemic of opioid-related overdoses and deaths in the United States and Canada. Incidences of opioid overdose have risen dramatically over the past 15 years. Opioid medications are now implicated in more than 500,000 deaths in America since the year 2000.
Currently, nearly 100 people die per day in the United States as a result of opioid overdose. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are reporting more than 42,000 deaths per year.
Over the past few decades, medical professionals have increasingly prescribed strong opioid medications to people managing long-term illnesses such as chronic pain. Patients become addicted to these highly potent medications. They either seek out street drugs to supplement their supply or they increase their own dosages as their bodies become tolerant to the substances, resulting in overdose and potentially death.
Opioids have many other side effects, including addiction and damage to various bodily organs and functions.
New Research Suggests Cannabis Could Help
In states where medical cannabis has been legalized, something surprising has happened. The number of deaths by opioid overdose and even the incidence of opioid overdose has been decreased.
Even more surprising, opioid prescriptions were also reduced in these same states. Further analysis found medical marijuana laws were associated with a nearly six percent reduction in the rate of opioid prescribing. States with recreational marijuana laws saw slightly higher rates of reduction, suggesting some people are self-medicating with cannabis. Studies even cited an overall decline in the number of overdose deaths.
More Research Is Needed
All of the research conducted thus far has limitations. In most cases, the study data has come from Medicaid. The people who make use of Medicaid tend to be poor, disabled, and elderly, so the findings are necessarily biased towards these groups.
Regional variance and variations in medical marijuana laws generally aren’t accounted for properly either.
How Can Cannabis Help?
The current understanding of how medical marijuana can help in the opioid crisis is that legal medical cannabis may lower people’s reliance on opioid prescriptions. Medical cannabis can be used to manage conditions opioids are currently used to treat, such as chronic pain and nerve pain. Ongoing research is investigating its other uses in human health.
Medical marijuana thus presents another option for medical practitioners and patients who are looking for alternative ways to manage these conditions. Medical marijuana is far less addictive than opioid medications. Many patients have also reported they’ve been able to reduce or even eliminate their reliance on opioids once cannabis has been made available to them.
Is Cannabis Safer?
Medical cannabis is undoubtedly a safer alternative to opioids.
One thing seems clear, however, and it’s that medical cannabis could play a role in helping combat the ongoing opioid crisis.