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Access to Medical Marijuana Reduces Opioid Prescriptions

Debate about using medical marijuana to mitigate opioid misuse

The idea of using marijuana to mitigate the opiate crisis can seem counter-intuitive to people in the medical community. Some healthcare providers are concerned that “aren’t we just replacing one drug with another?” and “doesn’t marijuana present its own set of dangers, such as addiction, dependency, and other health concerns?”

Medical marijuana is a divisive issue, and many intelligent, thoughtful people have voiced concerns such as these. Other people view cannabis research as an open and exciting field of discovery, and they want to advance marijuana as a safer option for patients who are managing chronic pain.

There is some common ground

People from both pro and con sides of the medical marijuana debate agree there is a need to study the medical benefits, safety, and dosing of marijuana, to determine how it can be used for difficult-to-manage diseases, such as opiate addiction and chronic pain. Data is now available on how access to marijuana via medical marijuana dispensaries affects opioid use…and it’s positive! According to two studies recently published in JAMA Internal Medicine, the rate of opiate prescriptions is lower in states where medical marijuana laws have been passed.

One of the studies showed that when medical marijuana laws went into effect in a specific state in the study, opioid prescriptions fell by 2.21 million daily doses filled per year. When medical marijuana dispensaries opened, prescriptions for opioids fell by 3.74 million daily doses per year. These reductions in daily opioid doses were particularly notable for hydrocodone (Vicodin) and morphine prescriptions. This is encouraging news for countering the country’s current opioid epidemic.

Similarly, the other study analyzed Medicaid prescription data from 2011 to 2016, and found that states which have implemented medical marijuana laws have seen a 5.88% lower rate of opioid prescribing. When they implemented adult-use (i.e., recreational use) marijuana laws, there was a 6.38% reduction in opiate prescribing.

Discussing Medical Marijuana in Place of Opioids

It is becoming clear, as guided by evidence in these new studies about reduced opiate use and adding medical marijuana to the pain relief arsenal, that medical practitioners can start helping patients to minimize their use of opiates by advising on the risks and benefits of choosing instead to go with safe medical marijuana usage.

Article by By Peter Grinspoon, MD
Read the full article at Harvard Health

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