Cannabis may be the best option in stopping the spread of the opioid epidemic, according to a report released yesterday by the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA).
More than 28,000 people were killed by opioid overdoses in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; it was the highest amount of recorded fatal overdoses ever. There are now more fatalities from opioid drug abuse then from car accidents in the United States.
Once opioid addiction and abuse started affecting the middle-class it became more noticeable and decisions had to be made in order to stop the epidemic from spreading. The NCIA found that more unconstrained prescription guidelines have helped increase the use of prescription pain relievers since 2001. As a result, opioid overdose deaths have also increased every single year since that time. Moreover, four times more prescription opioids have been sold since 1999.
The journal Medical Care reported that health care, productivity and criminal justice costs caused by opioid abuse are estimated to be over $78 billion dollars annually.
Why can cannabis stop the opioid epidemic?
The report argues that cannabis has proven to be an effective pain reliever for years.
For instance, in 2010, the University of California conducted 10 years of clinical studies relating to cannabis, and it concluded that cannabis is a legitimate pain medication for injuries, nervous system problems, and/or muscle problems, such as multiple sclerosis.
In 2015, 38 trials were conducted on the use of cannabinoids in pain management, and it was found to provide pain relieving effects in 71 percent of the trials.
Additionally, while over-the-counter medication can cause overdose if used improperly, the report cites the Sigma XI – The Scientific Research Society statement reporting that no one has ever overdosed on marijuana.
“I’ve found no published cases in the English language that document deaths from smoked marijuana, so the actual lethal dose is a mystery,” Claremont Graduate University Professor, Robert Gable writes in American Scientist, the Sigma XI’s publication.
The report also cited a survey that showed that if cannabis is taken with opioids, it can reduce the opioid dosage by as much as 39 percent. The survey also found that an additional 39 percent stopped using opioids completely.
In states where medical marijuana is legal, there have been proven reductions in the amount of prescription pain medication given to patients. State medical cannabis programs saved $165.2 million dollars in Medicare costs in 2013.
How cannabis is reducing opioid overdoses.
A study by Castlight Health reported that a mere 2.8 percent of opioid prescribed patients were characterized as abusers in states where medical cannabis is legal. That’s a little more than half the number of opioid prescribed patients who were classified as abusers in states where medical cannabis has not been legalized – 5.4 percent.
A 2014 study conducted between 1999 and 2010 found that in the 13 states where medical cannabis was legal, there was a 25 percent reduction in opioid-related deaths. Further, the reduction of overdose deaths grew by about 20 percent the first year after medical marijuana was legalized. Five years after medical marijuana legalization, the reduction of overdose deaths increased by 34 percent.
The report goes on to examine how pharmaceutical companies that manufacture these pain medications do not want to see cannabis legalized because it affects the profitability of their products. Prescription medication is a multi-billion dollar industry, and these companies want to ensure patients keep using and getting prescribed opioids and other medications.
The report also contends marijuana is not a “gateway drug,” citing a couple of studies. One of those studies even concluded that cannabis prohibition is what really functions as a gateway, for when marijuana is illegal, people will opt to use prescription and other illicit drugs that do not show up on drug tests.
So what needs to happen from here?
The report calls for removing marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act to allow states to research its use as a pain reliever, an appropriate treatment for addiction of more dangerous substances, and a replacement for opioids.
The researchers argue that such reforms can allow for veterans to benefit from medical marijuana use. From a economic perspective, if cannabis businesses can be better serviced by banks and financial institutions to grow their businesses without existing federal restrictions, they could generate more revenue and pay more state and federal taxes.
Ultimately reform will lead to less overdose deaths, more income, and a happier and safer society.