Medical Cannabis Dispensaries Cut Number of Opioid Deaths by 40%

Opioid Deaths

A new study has provided substantial evidence that medical cannabis can and should play a key role in addressing the opioid crisis, citing figures that all but implore public health officials and legislators to allow all Americans access to medical marijuana for the treatment of pain.

Published in the Journal of Health Economics, the study determined that access to medical cannabis dispensaries unequivocally demonstrated the capacity to reduce opioid deaths by 40 percent. This reduction in the opioid mortality rate occurred between the years 1999 and 2010 — notably, before the implementation of state-led legislation following the Ogden memo.

Using data from just the early period of these laws 1999–2010, dispensaries reduce opioid mortality rates by about 40%, above and beyond the reduction from marijuana laws alone. The total effect is estimated to be even larger.

Data up until 2013 suggested that tighter regulations made the mortality rate reductions less striking but still substantial. This significant decline in opioid overdose-related mortalities indicates that medical marijuana is a powerful asset in addressing the opioid crisis.

The Vast Scope of the Opioid Crisis

The authors of the study cited alarming mortality statistics from 2015, a year in which nearly 23,000 people died from a prescription opioid overdose. These deaths constituted over 4 out of 10 drug overdose deaths overall, outnumbering the combined death tally from cocaine and heroin that year.

Adding context to this increase in opioid overdose-related fatalities is the ever-expanding availability of opioid medications, whose distribution quadrupled. The investigators surmise that since opioid inventories escalated as opioid use plummeted, their findings reveal that cannabis curbed opiate abuse.

Dispensaries Divert Patients from Opioid Addiction

The researchers emphasized while important, cannabis legalization alone only contributed to a statistically insignificant 5 percent reduction; however, marijuana laws coupled with access to dispensaries resulted in a 25 percent reduction in the opioid mortality rate overall.

Not only did dispensary access save lives in the context of opioid abuse; the researchers also linked their operation with reductions in the number of patients seeking treatment for prescription opioid addiction. The evidence revealed that patients were replacing opioids with medical cannabis as a treatment for pain or perhaps were even finding symptom relief with marijuana that caused them to not even begin a course of opioids for treatment.

In short, our findings that legally protected and operating medical marijuana dispensaries reduce opioid-related harms suggests that some individuals may be substituting towards marijuana, reducing the quantity of opioids they consume or forgoing initiation of opiates altogether.

Cannabis an Effective Alternative to Prescription Opioids

A 2017 report surveying medical marijuana patients support the suggestion that medical marijuana can and does indeed serve as a viable treatment for pain, in addition to a variety of other conditions. Patients reported that cannabis alleviates their symptoms of pain and inflammation more quickly, efficiently, and for more extended periods of time than conventional therapies.

Another recent study supports these findings as well, but went further and concluded that patients with chronic back pain, arthritis, chronic headaches, fibromyalgia, and other chronic musculoskeletal conditions significantly reduced their prescription drug use after enrolling in a legal, medical cannabis program. Over a third of these patients ceased using prescription drugs altogether, In contrast, the study highlighted the fact that patients who were treating their pain symptoms with prescription drugs increased their dosage by the end of the study.

A study released last week only served to further corroborate these findings, with its participants cutting opioid use after only three months of treatment with medical cannabis. Also, three months of 10-times-weekly marijuana use improved brain function and activation patterns beyond what patients had been experiencing before using medical marijuana.

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