Medical Marijuana: A Potent Contributor to the Fight Against Opioids

Written by Christina Rock

The latest in a string of studies suggesting that access to medical marijuana contributes to reduced opioid use has just been released by researchers at the University of California San Diego and Weill Cornell Medical College.

The study’s authors found that medical marijuana prescriptions over a 21-year period in the US were associated with an almost 30 percent reduction in the use of certain types of opioids by the study’s subjects.

The scientific community is in widespread agreement over the ability of cannabis to offer mild-to-moderate pain relief—making it a lower-risk alternative to opioids. However, it is not only contributing to reduced prescriptions for opioids, but states with more liberal medical marijuana laws have fewer overdose deaths, studies note.

In the feverish discussion of the current epidemic, we often hear of unsuspecting patients becoming addicted after receiving legitimate prescriptions for pain management.

The study’s authors argue that these individuals would be less likely to become addicts if they could avoid that initial opioid prescription.

The recent study expands on research conducted earlier in the year at the University of Georgia and the University of Kentucky, respectively, using data from Medicaid patients—a population that is older, and more likely to receive prescriptions for pain management. They discovered a 14 percent reduction in opioid prescriptions in states that allowed easy access to marijuana, and calculated that dispensary programs reduced opioid prescriptions by 3.7 million daily doses. The researchers point out that “Marijuana is one of the potential alternative drugs that can provide relief from pain at a relatively lower risk of addiction and virtually no risk of overdose.”

Overall, the findings suggest that expanding access to medical and recreational marijuana could help ease the opioid epidemic nationally.

The New York City Department of Health seems to agree—as of early July, New Yorkers can replace opioid prescriptions with those for medical marijuana. The new policy emerged from a robust report issued by the department of health that included a recommendation in favor of legalization, claiming that that the pros for so doing outweighed the cons. State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker says that giving people an alternative to opioids is a critical step in the fight against the epidemic.

The city is clearly ripe for it—as of this week, 63,351 New Yorkers were enrolled in the medical marijuana program.

Christina Rock is a Seattle-based writer and photographer with a deep affection for late sixties music, strong coffee, and days that go better than planned.