Let’s not beat around the bush about it; the answer is YES. Cannabis can put a stop to the painkillers and opioid crisis, and one more state or country joining in on the cannabis legalization movement is one step closer to solving the problem.
There have been studies to support this claim.
A 2014 study published on the Journal of the American Medical Association found that in every state where medical cannabis has been legalized (from 1999 to 2010), the number of deaths related to opioid overdose dropped by 25 percent.
According to the JAMA study’s co-author, Colleen Barry, the difference is “striking.” She noted that this trend became visible in all the legalized states a year after they have legalized medical cannabis.
The JAMA study suggests that the ability of patients who are suffering from chronic pain to supplement or substitute their conventional pain-relief medications with cannabis also allow them to take smaller, if not zero, doses of these prescription painkillers, making it less likely for them to experience an overdose.
Another study, published in July 2016 on Health Affairs journal, found that doctors in states with legal medical cannabis prescribed 1,800 fewer prescription painkillers for patients annually.
Yet another study conducted by researchers at the University of California- San Diego found that hospitalization rates among patients who are suffering from painkiller addiction dropped 23 percent on average in states that offered cannabis. Cases of opioid overdose at hospitals in legalized states also saw a 13 percent decrease.
The University of California study, which involved analyzing hospital records in 27 states (nine of which were legalized states) from the years 1997 to 2014, stated that its findings prove that fears about cannabis increasing the number of hospitalizations were unsubstantiated. The study was released in the Drug and Alcohol Dependence report.
These studies also prove that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions was wrong when he said that the opioid crisis cannot be solved by legalizing cannabis. He said he found claims that cannabis can curb opioid addiction “astonishing.”
Cannabis, which is still classified by the federal government as a Schedule I substance, has not yet been linked to any case of fatal overdose. Meanwhile, opioid painkillers such as hydrocodone (Vicodin), oxycodone (OxyContin), methadone, and fentanyl are classified as Schedule II substances.
What’s this opioid epidemic in the first place?
According to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, more than 33,000 Americans died from opioid-related overdose in 2015.
The opioid crisis, according to reports, was sparked when sales of prescription painkillers quadrupled in number since 1999. Current numbers show that the epidemic kills around 91 Americans a day.
The Obama administration, in 2011, released a white paper that described its plan to deal the opioid epidemic. The administration’s concerns about accidental opioid overdose and addiction were echoed by many government and medical advisory groups from other parts of the world. As of 2015, all states (except for one) have set up prescription drug monitoring programs to allow doctors and pharmacists to access a patient’s prescription history so they could identify a high-risk patient. But in a 2015 survey, it was found that only 53 percent of doctors made use of these programs, while 22 percent were not even aware that such programs exist and are available to them.
As a result, in 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention established and published a new guideline for prescribing opioids for chronic pain. This guideline recommends that opioids be used only when the benefits of opioid medication – especially in pain management – are expected to outweigh its risks. The guideline also states that opioids be used at the lowest effective dosage and that using these meds must be avoided whenever possible.
In August 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump declared the opioid epidemic a national public health emergency.