Can Cannabis Reduce the Opiate Epidemic?
Overdose deaths involving opioids have accounted for more than six times the number of U.S. military service members killed in the post 9/11 wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have labeled the problem an “opiate epidemic,” and it accounts for approximately 116 deaths daily. Over the last decade, a number of studies across the globe have been conducted to evaluate the effect of cannabis use on the opiate epidemic.
Severity of the Opiate Epidemic
In the 1990’s opioid use became increasingly mainstream as doctors began to prescribe heavy pain medication more generously to cancer patients. From there, it became increasingly prescribed for chronic conditions such as joint and back pain. According to the American Academy of Pain Medicine, more than 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain.
In the past two decades, deaths from drug overdoses have become the leading cause of unintentional injury deaths in the U.S. 55 percent of those are related to prescription medications. The actual death toll in 2016 was approximately 63,600. Early reports from 2017 statistics are reaching around 66,000.
Recent Studies Cannabis Correlation
Significant Reduction in Use of Pain Medication
A 2016 study, recently published by the Minnesota Cannabis Program evaluated over 2000 participants. 58 percent of those studied reported being consistent users of pain medication prior to the study. Of that demographic, 38 percent were able to reduce their need for prescription pain medication with the use of cannabis. A majority of the overall participants reported that prior to the study they had at least moderate levels of the following symptoms:
- Disturbed Sleep
- Lack of Appetite
With the use of cannabis, 30 to 40 percent of the participants were able to achieve and maintain a ≥ 30 percent symptom reduction.
Stopping Dependency Before it Starts
The European Journal of Internal Medicine also took a look into the issue. From 2015 to 2017 nearly 3000 cancer patients were evaluated. Researchers found that cannabis use could stop opioid dependency before it starts. Of those studied, 36 percent stopped using opioids and 10 percent made a reduction in use.
“Cannabis is a very good alternative to reduce opioid consumption, to increase quality of life, and to reduce pain, nausea and vomiting,” said Lead Researcher, Lihi Bar-Lev Schleider.
Morbid but Insightful Research
An American Journal of Public Health study, published in 2016 made a correlation between opioid use and legalization of medical marijuana in several states. Data from 1999 to 2013 found a reduction in people testing positive for opioids after dying in a car accident. The report does not correlate the accidents with substances, but does suggest a decreased use in opiates after the legalization of medical marijuana.
A study conducted by researchers at University of California, Berkeley showed that participants preferred cannabis to prescription medications and would be more likely to use cannabis if it was easier to obtain and less stigmatized. 97 percent of those involved in the survey stated that they could reduce their use of pain medications with cannabis and prefer cannabis over prescription medication.
The study asserted, “Used in combination with opioid pain medication, cannabis can lower opioid side effects, cravings and withdrawal severity as well as enhance the analgesic effects of opioids. Thereby allowing for lower doses and less risk of overdose.”
Tighter Opiate Regulations May Cause More Side Effects
On paper it makes sense that tightening regulations on narcotic prescriptions would help solve the problem. Conversely, those who seek doctor-prescribed opiates and are not able to obtain them, are more likely to shift to illegal substances such as heroin other synthetics or derivatives of fentanyl and tramadol to combat pain.
Cannabis to the Rescue
The healing components of cannabis are continuing to surface. The two major cannabinoids at play are THC and CBD, though there are over 80 cannabinoids. THC is what generates the psychogenic effects of the compound.
CBD contains strictly healing components. It is a patented antioxidant and neuroprotectant. It also interacts with the body’s natural endocannabinoid system to block pain receptors, decrease inflammation, improve sleep, and reduce nausea on top of numerous other benefits. The World Health Organization recently reported that CBD is safe for humans and animals, and it is non-addictive with no side effects.
A recent report in the Journal of the American Medical Association stated that opioid use decreased by 33 percent in 13 states following six years after legalization of medical marijuana. That sounds like a pretty good start.