When it comes to cannabis and the opioid epidemic currently wreaking havoc in America, there’s basically two schools of diametrically opposed thought: Either cannabis fuels the current crisis via the gateway drug effect, or cannabis has the potential to help immensely by providing a far safer alternative for pain relief as well as a potential pathway out of addiction.
And more importantly, studies have consistently shown that opioid abuse goes down significantly in places with access to legal cannabis. Much of this drop is attributable to those suffering with chronic pain or other conditions treatable with opioids who choose to use cannabis instead. A 2011 study headed by Dr. Donald Abrams also found that cannabis makes opioid drugs more effective, allowing smaller opioid doses to provide the same level of pain relief, with correspondingly lowered side effects and danger of dependence..
Marcus Bachhuber, assistant professor of medicine at the Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, first started hearing about this phenomenon from patients more than fifteen years ago. In 2014, he published research in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine that showed between 1999 and 2010, states with legal medical cannabis averaged almost 25% fewer opioid overdose deaths. Since that landmark study, many other papers have bolstered the argument that cannabis can play an important role in terms of harm reduction when it comes to prescription drug abuse—including two new studies (both published in the May 2018 issue of JAMA Internal Medicine) showing that when states legalize cannabis there’s a marked drop in opioid prescriptions.
According to W. David Bradford, an economist at the University of Georgia and an author of one of the studies.
“In this time when we are so concerned—rightly so—about opiate misuse and abuse and the mortality that’s occurring, we need to be clear-eyed and use evidence to drive our policies. If you’re interested in giving people options for pain management that don’t bring the particular risks that opiates do, states should contemplate turning on dispensary-based cannabis policies.”