Medical marijuana has been legal and is used in a number of states in America, as well as other countries around the world. The change in policy has created a growing quantity of evidence suggesting that legalized medical cannabis has contributed to a reduction in opioid use, including the number of people who fatally overdosing on opioids.
However, there has been growing public concern expressed over the worsening opiate situation in the US. As many doctors point out, there has been, in parallel with these improvements, been a reduction of the amount of opioids prescribed.
Overall then, does an increase in the availability of marijuana lead to a reduction in opioid use?
Opioid Overdose (OD) Reduction
According to the American Academy of Pain Medicine, 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain. To relieve that pain, opiates like hydrocodone, oxycodone and morphine are easily available both from Doctors and, where a prescription is not granted, on the streets. The is now being officially labeled an “opiate epidemic” worldwide.
- Colorado reports a 6.5% reduction of opioid related deaths:
The state of Colorado in the US has found that, after the legalizing of recreational marijuana in 2014, there was a 6 5 percent decrease in opiate overdose deaths since 2014, according to an article published in The American Journal of Public Health.
- Cannabis has almost no OD risk:
In cases where marijuana has been used to treat patients with chronic pain, instead of opiates, it has proved to be more effective, with a smaller number of complications and side effects. Many patients have been opting to use cannabis themselves, as it has almost no fatal overdose risk.
- The difference in OD levels between states that allow and do not allow recreational cannabis:
After examining the differences in opiate overdose fatalities before and after the changes in its local legislation to allow cannabis, Colorado comparing statistics with Nevada, s atste which only allowed medical marijuana, over the same period.They found that opioid deaths fell by 6.5 percent. Similar trends have been established in the other states suggesting even recreational cannabis changes alone could result in a saving of thousands of lives each year.
- The truth is in the numbers:
A study that was published in the American Medicine Association Journal (JAMA) found that states that had introduced medical marijuana laws had a 24.8 percent lower average annual opioid overdose death rate compared to states without such laws.
- What’s more, people prefer Cannabis to Opioids:
Researchers at the University of British Columbia reported the results of a 2017 study showed that 80% of Californian patients thought that their taking of medical marijuana alone was more effective than taking cannabis and opioids
Overall, In the six years since legal cannabis was made available in 13 US states, researchers have found that deaths from opiates have decreased by approximately 33 percent.
According to The Clinical Research Institute, Soroka University, medical cannabis reduces chronic pain in people over 65 without adverse effects. Those suffering from ailments including Parkinson’s, Crohn’s disease, cancer symptoms, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), multiple sclerosis, ulcerative colitis and other similar medical issues all appear to benefit.
SCIENCEThe main pain relieving components found in cannabis are: Delta-9 Tetrahydrocannabinol (Delta-9 THC), Cannabidiol (CBD), Cannabinol (CBN), Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV).
One in five Australians now live with Chronic Pain
What could such a change mean in Australia? Similarly to the USA, Chronic pain affects one in five Australians, including children. This already alarming statistic rises to one in 3 for those over sixty-five.
In Australia, the government has made Codeine available only by prescription. Restricting peoples' access to Codeine or other opiates harder, without first making a viable alternative may not be a good idea.
SCIENCEThe evidence suggests that legalizing recreational cannabis could contribute to a reduction in Opioid related deaths.
The combination of a high proportion of Australians suffering chronic pain and a desire to avoid the ‘epidemic’ of opioid abuse which has been seen in the US, could be seen as a motivator to free up of legislation that is holding up the practical availability of the now legal medicinal cannabis. Independent research seems to support the validity of the suggestion. Additionally, given Colorado’s performance relative to Nevada, it could be argued that legalizing recreational cannabis makes sense, too. Without this, Australians may find another way to replace their pain relieving medications, possibly reverting to the ‘buying on the street’ behavior that we’ve seen overseas.
It would not be fair to suggest that there is only one view on the matter, however. Dr. David Caldicott has suggested that the obvious solution for people’s pain relief was medicinal marijuana, which he said he believes is safer and a more effective treatment. Dr. Caldicott also suggested that patients are stopping using their opioids and benzos because they are getting the same effect from cannabis, a product that is far safer. Conversely, one Australian study by Professor Hall found that patients with chronic pain did not use less opioids or have less pain because they used cannabis than those who did not use cannabis
Unfortunately, so far the only reliable pain killing supply in Australia is black market cannabis, which comes with all the problems of self regulation.