Published: Wed, April 04, 2018
Health Care | By Alice Shelton

Two new studies show how marijuana can help fight the opioid epidemic

Two new studies show how marijuana can help fight the opioid epidemic

One study examines state implementation of medical and adult-use marijuana laws with opioid prescribing rates and spending among Medicaid enrollees, while a second study examines prescribing patterns for opioids in Medicare Part D and the implementation of state medical cannabis laws. Compared to states where cannabis was banned, states where medical marijuana was legal averaged 3.7 million fewer opioid doses annually, while states that permitted only home cultivation of marijuana had 1.8 million fewer doses.

The National Safety Council is releasing the report at the National Rx Drug and Heroin Summit in Atlanta, in front of the Council's Prescribed to Death Memorial to the victims of the opioid crisis.

"There has been substantive evidence that marijuana can relieve pain at a lower risk of addiction than opioids and with virtually no risk of overdose", said lead study author Hefei Wen, an assistant professor of health management and policy at the University of Kentucky College of Public Health in Lexington, Kentucky.

A separate study of adults insured by Medicaid, the U.S. health program for the poor, found medical marijuana laws associated with an nearly 6% decline in opioid prescriptions.

New research has been released that further highlights the potential role of medical cannabis in combating the Nation's opioid crisis.

Each day, 90 Americans die from opioid overdoses, Hill notes in JAMA Internal Medicine, where both studies were published.

The studies are the latest in a long line of research showing that marijuana availability is associated with reductions in opiate use and misuse.

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Additionally, researchers found a 14.5 percent reduction in any opiate use in states operating legal marijuana dispensaries. In Prescription Nation, a digest analyzing how states are tackling the worst drug crisis in recorded USA history, the Council assigned its highest mark of "Improving" to Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Washington, DC, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, Virginia and West Virginia.

There is widespread agreement among doctors and public health experts that marijuana is effective at treating chronic pain.

Instead, they find evidence that legalization may reduce the prescribing of opioids.

Opioid prescriptions tend to decrease in US states that adopt medical marijuana laws or legalize recreational use of pot, two different research teams have concluded.

One looked at trends in opioid prescribing under Medicaid, which covers low-income adults, between 2011 and 2016. As people take more, their bodies become used to it, requiring more.

"Marijuana liberalization may serve as a component of a comprehensive package to tackle the opioid epidemic", Wen and Hockenberry concluded.

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