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IMA Wellness Blog

New Studies Indicate Opioid Abuse and Misuse May Be Lower in States Where Medical Marijuana is Legalized

by Jennifer K. Mason

Dinsmore & Shohl LLP is an IMA B2B Partner

The opioid epidemic in West Virginia caused over 800 deaths in 2017 alone. In March of 2019, the National Institute on Drug Abuse published statistics regarding opioid-involved overdose deaths:

“West Virginia has the highest age-adjusted rate of drug overdose deaths involving opioids,” the Institute reported. “In 2017, there were 833 drug overdose deaths involving opioids in West Virginia—a rate of 49.6 deaths per 100,000 persons. This is double the rate in 2010, and threefold higher than the national rate of 14.6 deaths per 100,000 persons. The sharpest increase in opioid-involved overdose deaths was seen in cases involving synthetic opioids other than methadone (mainly fentanyl): a rise from 122 deaths in 2014 to 618 deaths in 2017.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that “opioids (including prescription opioid pain relievers and heroin) killed more than 28,000 people in 2014” nationwide. 

The question is: What can we do to change those figures and reduce the number of deaths resulting from opioid abuse and misuse? Many researchers have been working on a solution, and two recently published articles contain potential answers. Researchers from Florida International University, using data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, found “evidence that medical marijuana laws may be effective at reducing opioid reliance.” A study by the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center, published by PLOS One, examined whether patients substitute marijuana for prescription painkillers. Researchers conducted a nationwide representative study of 16,280 adults. They concluded “41 percent of that sample decreased or stopped using opioids because of marijuana use, while 46 percent reported no change in opioid use. … The most commonly reported reasons for substitution were better pain management (36 percent), fewer side effects (32 percent), and withdrawal symptoms (26 percent).”

Prior studies support these conclusions. According to an article from Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine, cannabis “used in combination with opioid pain medications … can lower opioid side effects, cravings, and withdrawal severity, as well as enhance the analgesic effects of opioids, thereby allowing for lower doses and less risk of overdose.”

A previous study reported subjects’ pain “was significantly decreased after the addition of vaporized cannabis” and suggested that cannabis treatment “may allow for opioid treatment at lower doses with fewer [patient] side effects.” The authors concluded that their results “demonstrate that inhaled cannabis safely augments the analgesic effects of opioids.”[1] And research published in 2016 found that 80 percent of medical cannabis users reported substituting cannabis for prescribed medications, particularly among patients with pain-related conditions.[2]

Finally, a study conducted by the University of Michigan and published by the American Pain Society in 2016 found that “using medical cannabis for chronic pain treatment may benefit some chronic-pain patients.” Specifically, “[t]he mean change in self-reported opioid use among all respondents answering this question was 64 percent.”

Longitudinal studies must still be conducted to reaffirm this data, but as marijuana and hemp-based products are being legalized in states throughout the country, it is important for anyone with business interests in this field to be apprised of the current findings.

To view the original article, click here.