Can Marijuana Help the Country Deal With the Opioid Crisis?

July 4, 2018

In August, President Trump made what was long-known official by declaring opioid abuse an emergency. From 2000 to 2015, a staggering 500,000 people have died due to overdoses, the majority of which from opioids. But what hasn't received much attention: the potential to use marijuana for opiate addiction treatment.

Addiction is a common issue for those who are taking prescription opioid-based painkillers, which can lead to heroin abuse once their prescription runs out. The crisis is widespread and growing, which has led to increased awareness and research for alternatives to opioids. Could marijuana be the answer?

Marijuana for Pain Relief

A Harvard-led systematic review of 28 studies examined the efficacy of exo-cannabinoids to treat various types of pain concluded that “use of marijuana for chronic pain, neuropathic pain, and spasticity due to multiple sclerosis is supported by high-quality evidence.”

Among those studies, six out of six chronic pain studies and five out of five neuropathic pain studies reported that there was a significant improvement among its patients.

Additionally, there are countless firsthand stories of people who have used cannabis for pain management. Scroll through any comment section of articles that are about cannabis and you are likely to find someone praising weed for its ability to dull pain.

Marijuana for Opiate Addiction Treatment

In states where medical marijuana has been legalized, there were 23 percent fewer hospitalizations for opioid abuse and dependence, as well as an average drop of 13 percent in opioid overdoses. It may seem like a coincidence, but additional studies support a correlation. Ultimately, they point toward the potential of marijuana for opiate addiction.

Psychiatric nurse Anita Willard Briscoe lead another study, which found that 25% of the study’s 400 participants kicked their opioid addiction with the help of cannabis. Though that's a low percentage, it shows that cannabis may help a significant amount of people.

Researchers from the University of California Berkeley and Kent State University conducted a study in which they emailed a survey to 2,810 participants asking them about their pain, opioid use, and marijuana use. The results found that 97 percent of participants strongly agreed that they were able to decrease their opioid use when they used cannabis.

Of the participants, 89% agreed that taking opioids produced unwanted side effects. Additionally, 81% agreed that cannabis was more effective in treating pain than a combination of opioids and cannabis. Finally, an overwhelming 93% agreed that they preferred cannabis for pain management as opposed to opioids.

Legal Hurdles

The DEA currently lists cannabis and its cannabinoids as schedule one drugs. This hinders research and complicates making scientific conclusions, as researchers must repeat studies multiple times.

Marian Wilson, an assistant professor at the Washington State University College of Nursing, says it best. “I’m not a proponent of using cannabis. I’m a proponent of science. So if it is a fact that it could help people better than opioids, why shouldn’t we know that?”

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