Increasing Study Data Indicates Medical Cannabis Can Reduce Opioid Use, Deaths

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Libertarian think tank The Cato Institute last week posted an article citing a study report issued by the Minnesota Department of Health. Study results, which surveyed data from 2,000 first-time medical marijuana users with intractable pain, said 42 percent of those patients reported a 30 percent decrease or more in their level of pain.

Perhaps, more importantly, the study also found that of those patients taking opioid medications for pain, 63 percent were able to reduce or curtail their opioid use, once treated with medical cannabis.

This study joins a growing body of documented, academic research that seems to strongly indicate that cannabis use–far from being an invitation to harder drugs–could actually be a viable alternative for treating addiction to opioids and overuse of prescription painkillers.

In June 2017, mgretailer reported on another study, conducted by the University of California, Berkeley, and medical cannabis patient network HelloMD.com. Respondents with chronic pain in that study indicated that not only was medical cannabis more effective than opioids at treating pain, but that 92 percent of them preferred cannabis treatment to prescription medications.

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A 2017 Rand Corporation study found that a “key feature” of effectively reducing opioid use might be directly affected by allowing more liberal regulations on the allowable amount of cannabis those patients can purchase. This study, like several others, analyzed prescription information for Medicare-D and Medicaid patients, as well as opioid-related death statistics.

That study concluded, “As states have become more stringent in their regulation of dispensaries, the protective value generally has fallen. These findings suggest that broader access to medical marijuana facilitates substitution of marijuana for powerful and addictive opioids.”

Another study, published in 2016 by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), analyzed prescription data for Medicare Part D enrollees from 2010 to 2013. Study authors, from the University of Georgia, said in conclusion, “…we found that the use of prescription drugs for which marijuana could serve as a clinical alternative fell significantly, once a medical marijuana law was implemented. National overall reductions in Medicare program and enrollee spending when states implemented medical marijuana laws were estimated to be $165.2 million per year in 2013. The availability of medical marijuana has a significant effect on prescribing patterns and spending in Medicare Part D.”

Published in 2015, a data study of rates of opioid-related deaths from 2000-2015 in Colorado State observed similar findings as the University of Georgia study. When recreational cannabis was legalized in the state in 2014, researchers observed a drop in opioid-related deaths.

“Legalization of cannabis in Colorado was associated with short-term reductions in opioid-related deaths. As additional data become available, research should replicate these analyses in other states with legal recreational cannabis,” study authors said.

A 2014 study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), looked at data from all 50 states, from 1999 to 2010, which compared death certificate data; specifically, comparing rates of opioid-related deaths in states with or without legal access to medical cannabis.

“Examination of the association between medical cannabis laws and opioid analgesic overdose mortality in each year after implementation of the law showed that such laws were associated with a lower rate of overdose mortality that generally strengthened over time,” study authors concluded. The 2014 study was funded by, among other sponsors, the National Institutes for Health (NIH).

Results from another 2016 study, conducted by the University of Michigan, mimicked the findings of last week’s Minnesota of Department of Public Healthstudy results. In the UoM study, of 185 medical marijuana patients, 64 percent reported that they were able to reduce or cease using opioid medications and 45 percent of respondents reported an improved quality of life.

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