Medical cannabis is legal today in 28 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Guam. As our country continues to shift policy, and perceptions, about this important issue, one of the most encouraging aspects is the reduction in opioid use by elderly and disabled patients who have legal access to medical marijuana.
Powerful Research Results
A study published in July 2016 in Health Affairs found that physicians wrote significantly fewer prescriptions for U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved painkillers and other medications for nine different ailments in states with medical marijuana laws.
Senior author W. David Bradford from the University of Georgia in Athens and colleagues analyzed Medicare data from 2010 through 2013 and found that use of FDA-approved medicines for anxiety, depression, nausea, seizures, sleep disorders, and spasticity all declined significantly. But the biggest drop was seen in patients’ demand for pain relief medications. The annual number of daily doses prescribed per physician fell by more than 11 percent, or 1,800 per day.
“THE RESULTS SHOW THAT MARIJUANA MIGHT BE BENEFICIAL WITH DIVERTING PEOPLE AWAY FROM OPIOIDS,” BRADFORD SAID.”
The efficacy of cannabis in treating these conditions and lowering the use of prescription drugs is further fortified by the fact that “prescriptions didn’t drop for medicines such as blood-thinners, for which marijuana isn’t an alternative.”
A University of Michigan study published in 2016 looked at 185 patients from a medical marijuana dispensary in Ann Arbor who controlled chronic pain with medical marijuana.
- The participants reported a 64 percent reduction in their use of opioids.
- They reported fewer side effects from their medications.
- They experienced a 45 percent improvement in quality of life since using cannabis to manage pain.
A comprehensive report released early this year by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine based on the review of over 10,000 scientific abstracts from marijuana health research showed “there is conclusive or substantial evidence that cannabis or cannabinoids are effective for the treatment for chronic pain in adults.”
Solution to the Opioid Epidemic
The encouraging studies that demonstrate cannabis is a viable alternative to opioid painkillers come at a time when national health leaders are asking the health care community to reduce prescriptions for pain relief medications such as Vicodin and OxyContin.
- The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that prescriptions for opioids have quadrupled since 1999.
- Nearly two million Americans either abused or were dependent on prescription opioids in 2014, according to the CDC.
- 40 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.
- About 60 percent of opioid overdoses occur in people with legitimate prescriptions for pain pills.
- A 2014 study reported in JAMA Internal Medicine found that states with any kind of medical marijuana law had a 25 percent lower rate of death from opioid overdoses than other states.
- A 2015 study showed that medical marijuana dispensaries were associated with a 16 to 31 percent decrease in opioid overdose deaths compared to states without dispensaries. The decline was especially noticeable among men and seemed to be associated with lower rates of illegal opioid use.
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https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-medicalpot-elderly-idUSKCN0ZM2C9, https://content.healthaffairs.org/content/35/7/1230.abstract, https://www.statnews.com/2016/09/14/medical-marijuana-opioid/?s_campaign=trendmd, https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/07/06/484977159/after-medical-marijuana-legalized-medicare-prescriptions-drop-for-many-drugs, https://ns.umich.edu/new/releases/23622-medical-marijuana-reduces-use-of-opioid-pain-meds-decreases-risk-for-some-with-chronic-pain,