Opioid Usage Drops in States with Medical Marijuana Laws on the Books


Opioid usage continues to claim lives across the country, in 2016 taking more Americans than breast cancer did. As more and more people overdose or find themselves unknowingly taking lethal substances such as fentanyl, the outlook is grim, representing perhaps the largest health crisis the 21st century has yet seen. Prescribed for a variety reasons, from joint pain to post-surgery recovery, opioid pills have become just one of a number of prescriptions abused with regularity in the US, along with antidepressants and anti-anxiety pills. The key difference, however, is the highly addictive nature of opioid pills, the use of which often leads patients to illegal drug-seeking behavior that becomes even more dangerous over time.

The light at the end of the tunnel, of course, can be found in medical marijuana, which with greater frequency than ever is viewed as a viable alternative to opioid pills in addition to antidepressants and anti-anxiety pills. A claim long made by proponents of medical marijuana, the pain relief effects of medical marijuana seem powerful enough to make opioids somewhat obsolete, especially considering the risks of opioid pills that are not inherent to medical marijuana. Whereas there is a high risk of physical addition and in turn overdose with opioids, there are no such risks with medical marijuana.

In what could be called an enormous validation of their deeply-held beliefs, medical marijuana proponents are now pointing to a study conducted by Dr. Hefei Wen of the University of Kentucky College of Public Health and Dr. Jason Hockenberry of the Emory University Rollins School of Public Health. In this study, Drs. Wen and Hockenberry write that “State implementation of medical marijuana laws was associated with a 5.88 percent lower rate of opioid prescribing.” This finding is one with potentially dramatic ramifications in the debate over medical marijuana laws, pointing to a measurable degree to the laws’ efficacy in lowering the usage rates of dangerous drugs. In their report, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s JAMA Internal Medicine, Drs. Wen and Hockenberry go on to posit that “Marijuana is one of the potential non-opioid alternatives that can relieve pain at a relatively lower risk of addiction and virtually no risk of overdose.” They also found that in state that had passed medical marijuana laws, there was an 8% drop in opioid prescription rates relative to states that had not passed medical marijuana laws.

As more states continue to pass medical marijuana laws, it seems that a drop in opioid usage rates and opioid deaths is guaranteed nationally. Given the evidence, patients are not only open to medical marijuana as an alternative pain, depression, and anxiety treatment but perhaps even clamoring for it.





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