Legal Marijuana Reducing Opioid Abuse?

Opioids are heavily abused in the U.S. 

With opioid abuse more than quadrupling since 1999, it may be time for America to admit it has a problem. Senator Elizabeth Warren wrote a letter to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention asking them to look into “the impact of the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana on opioid overdose deaths” at the beginning of the year. Due to this letter, the CDC recently wrote a guideline urging doctors to be cautious with prescribing opioids to their patients. According to some research on opioid abuse in states with legal marijuana, the solution we need may indeed be weed.

Opioids like heroin, morphine, and more are being abused throughout the United States. There are an estimated 2.1 million people in the country who are suffering from substance abuse disorders related to prescription opioid pain relievers in 2012 alone. 467,000 in the same year were found to be addicted to heroin. The consequences of opioid abuse are stacking, and it’s still on the rise.

The number of prescription opioids like hydrocodone and oxycodone produce has gone from 76 million products in 1991 to almost 207 million in 2013. The greater availability of these products is likely why the rate of abuse has more than quadrupled over the years. In 2014 opioid drug overdose deaths hit 47,000 which were record numbers tripling since 2010.

Opioid Abuse Decreased in States with Legal Marijuana

Is legal marijuana reducing opioid abuse?
JAMA Intern Med

A study to determine the relationship between the presence of state medical marijuana laws and opioid overdose mortality rates found that opioid abuse decreased 25% in states with legal marijuana. The study confirmed that “medical marijuana laws are associated with significantly lower state-level opioid overdose mortality rates.” The study concluded that further investigation into how medical marijuana laws can interact with policies aimed at preventing opioid overdoses was required.

Co-author of one of the studies, Colleen Barry, a health policy researcher at John Hopkins in Baltimore, said that “this is a good example of where policy change has gotten ahead of the science.” This is because marijuana has become legal in half of the U.S. but the federal legalization of marijuana has yet to happen. This has caused a lack of scientific research on marijuana, but positive results are starting to show in states with legal marijuana, which is prompting further research on medical marijuana’s ability to fight disease.

Elizabeth Warren Thinks Legal Marijuana Can Reduce Opioid Abuse.

Is legal marijuana reducing opioid abuse?
Astrid Riecken/Getty

“Marijuana is effective at treating pain,” she points to a meta-analysis of 79 medical studies that found concrete evidence that marijuana was efficient at treating chronic pain. On top of that, a Canadian study found no signs of serious side effects caused by medical marijuana after one year of treatment. Only less serious side effects such as coughing or dizziness were reported. The Drug and Alcohol Review found that 80 percent of medical marijuana patients swapped painkillers for pot. 52 percent also reported drinking less when taking medical marijuana. The lack of adverse side effects and ability to treat chronic pain in place of 80 percent of patients painkillers illustrates one of the benefits of legalized marijuana. The government should consider regulating marijuana more than opioids were in the past few decades but ultimately legalizing it to combat the country’s opioid abuse crisis.