Home Science Two new studies confirm what many of us already knew: Medical marijuana staves off opiate abuse

Two new studies confirm what many of us already knew: Medical marijuana staves off opiate abuse

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Using results from Medicare Part D data, scientists have found yet another correlation between medical marijuana availability and a reduction in opiate usage, and have published 2 separate studies in the JAMA Internal Medicine publication. Both studies establish what the American Medical Association also did in 2014: 

“These findings further strengthen arguments in favor of considering medical applications of cannabis as one tool in the policy arsenal that can be used to diminish the harm of prescription opioids,” Ashley C. Bradford, W. David Bradford and Amanda Abraham of the University of Georgia.

Medicare Part D is an optional prescription drug benefit plan for those enrolled in Medicare. It covers more than 42 million Americans, including those 65 or older. That makes it easier to study large groups of people who are receiving prescriptions from doctors. 

The studies found that when a state instituted any medical cannabis law, prescriptions filled for all opioids decreased by 2.11 million daily doses per year from an average of 23.08 million daily doses per year. 

New England Towns Struggle With Opioid And Heroin Epidemic NORWICH, CT - MARCH 23: Oxycodone pain pills prescribed for a patient with chronic pain lie on display on March 23, 2016 in Norwich, CT. Communities nationwide are struggling with the unprecidented opioid pain pill and heroin addiction epidemic. On March 15, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), announced guidelines for doctors to reduce the amount of opioid painkillers prescribed, in an effort to curb the epidemic. The CDC estimates that most new heroin addicts first became hooked on prescription pain medication before graduating to heroin, which is stronger and cheaper. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Further, when actual dispensaries were opened (where people can actually access marijuana in various forms), prescriptions for all opioids decreased by an incredible 3.742 million daily doses per year.  

This is an important statistic, because some states have approved medical marijuana but access to it through dispensaries is spotty; this means some folks, especially older Americans, cannot easily obtain it. For more on the various laws by state, go here. 

Given that opioid-related mortality increased by nearly 16% from 2014 to 2015, and increased 320% between 2000 and 2015, it’s a timely study that needs to be paid attention to — big pharma be damned. 

It’s actually a pretty simple concept: It’s impossible to die from an overdose of marijuana alone, but the likelihood of doing so from opiates is very real.

One of the key ways medical marijuana can be effective in reducing opiate harm is that it has a unique supplemental effect: Cannabis, especially cannabis indica, can supplement the pain-relieving effect of opiates to a point where the patient doesn’t feel the need to over-medicate with the opiate. It’s pretty remarkable. 

There will be more studies, and as more states realize the tax revenue and medical benefits of cannabis, more states will gain either medical or recreational marijuana legalization — even some conservative states. 

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