Many have discussed the possibility of cannabis reducing the seemingly uncontrollable opioid addiction epidemic that has been scourging the U.S. Recently, two new studies from JAMA Internal Medicine have looked directly at this subject and the findings have been published for consumption. The debate has mainly been focused on if legalizing cannabis would help to combat the problem of opioid addiction and the too often overdoses that accompany the habit.
Since cannabis has been known to effectively lower pain in adults it has been proposed many times that it be used as a less risk answer to opioid prescriptions. While other research suggests that cannabis use would possibly encourage opioid use, making the problem greater than it currently stands. However, these two new studies conducted by JAMA Internal Medicine aren’t looking at the effects of legalizing cannabis on opioid addiction and overdoses. The studies are looking at how legalization would possibly lower the amount of prescriptions given out for opioids, since over-prescribing has become one of the biggest angles of the opioid epidemic.
One of the studies delved on data showing opioid prescriptions under Medicaid covering low income adults from 2001 to 2016. The study compared states where cannabis was in some form legalized versus states with no reform laws in place. Comparisons were done on a quarterly basis so that states that may have not had any legalization in place at one time could still be part of the study once their cannabis reform laws had kicked in. The study found that people that could legally use cannabis to treat specific conditions showed a 6 percent lower rate of opioid prescribing for pain. This would equate to 39 less prescriptions per 1000 patients using Medicaid. Now, also add in the fact that states with recreational use laws in effect allow for another 6 percent drop in opioid prescriptions being issued.
The other study conducted focused on opioid prescriptions under Medicare covering people 65 years and older, as well as anyone with disabilities. Here, researchers showed that Medicare patients in states with available dispensaries filled opioid prescriptions at a 14 percent less rate than compared to those in other states with no cannabis reform laws. Even patients that could only grow their cannabis at home showed a 7 percent drop in opioid prescriptions obtained. W. David Bradford who is an economist at the University of Georgia, and an author of the second study conducted, said the results support other findings that provides even more evidence that cannabis is a viable option to opioids and that this fact is “now hard to ignore” giving proof for the need of federal regulations to be changed to let doctors prescribe cannabis as an alternative.
Dr. Kevin Hill of Harvard Medical School and Dr. Andrew Saxon of the University of Washington provided another view of these new studies in a published editorial. They both agree that the two new studies don’t disclose if patients successfully reduced or avoided using opioids due to having more free access to cannabis. They also feel that the findings from the studies may not even apply to those not on Medicaid or Medicare and that some of the results may have been distorted due to the nuances of the various state populations studied. Hill and Saxon agree that states and the federal government need to pay for more studies to assist in guiding proper policies.
By Tracy Jerome Chisley (@PoeticPanther)
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