Blog Menu

Legalized Cannabis Use Lowers Opioid Abuse

by Angel Ferrer 3 min read


Legal Marijuana Helps Lowers Opioid Abuse

The opioid crisis is tearing its way across cities and towns in the United States, with increasingly more people becoming dependent upon prescription opioids each year. Used to treat chronic pain, opioids were once considered to be the last best option for those suffering from conditions where pain is part of their everyday lives.

However, thanks to the broader legalization of medical cannabis, many states are seeing the prescription rates of opioids falling.

What Kind of Evidence Was Found?

Because doctors can’t directly prescribe medical cannabis, there was no hard-and-fast data correlating legalized medical cannabis with a decrease in opioid prescriptions. However, researchers used data gathered from opioid prescriptions covered by Medicare Part D between 2010 and 2015, and opioid prescriptions covered by Medicaid between 2011 and 2016 to see patterns of declining opioid prescriptions in states with legalized medical cannabis during those time periods.

The researchers reported their findings in a study published in theJournal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine in April 2018.

What they found was that, in states with legalized medical cannabis, the number of prescribed daily doses of opiates under Medicare Part D fell by 2.21 million annually. Similarly, in states with laws allowing medical cannabis, Medicaid-covered prescription opioid rates fell 5.88% annually.

Researchers could access this data because Medicare and Medicaid publish their usage and reimbursement information so it is freely available. There was no data in these studies regarding patients who were privately insured or uninsured, but the evidence found from Medicare and Medicaid patients showed that wider legalization of medical cannabis could help dramatically reduce the rates of opiate prescription across the country.

In another study, published in 2016, patients were surveyed about their use of prescription opioids and medical cannabis. Survey respondents were all chronic pain sufferers who had visited medical cannabis dispensaries between 2013 and 2015.

Of the 244 respondents, 64% reported a decrease in opioid use. Additionally, those who used medical cannabis reported a decrease in the number of side effects from medication usage as well as improved quality of life.

How Can the Legalization of Medical Cannabis Decrease Opioid Prescription Rates?

If patients have access to safe, legal medical cannabis to help relieve their chronic pain, they are less likely to need prescription opioids to help them.

Medical cannabis has been shown to be safer, more effective, and less habit-forming than opioids, meaning the risk of overdose or death as a result of use is much lower. Patients can have decreased pain without the risks that come with prescription opioids.

Related: Cannabis Could Replace Big Pharma

Even if patients still have opiates prescribed, those with access to medical cannabis may be less likely to fill those prescriptions, or they may take fewer doses of the opioids. 

How Does Medical Cannabis Help Those with Chronic Pain?

Studies have shown that the cannabinoids present in medical marijuana operate in the brain in a similar fashion to opioids and can provide similar effects on the experience of pain.

Unlike opioids, however, medical cannabis is far less likely to become habit forming. The way the brain and body experience the effects of cannabis are different from the way they experience opiates; using too much cannabis is not going to slow down your heartbeat or cause a potentially deadly overdose like an accidental overdose of opioids might.

Because of the chemical makeup of cannabis, the compound that produces the pain-reducing effects—cannabidiol, or CBD—can be separated from the compound that leaves a consumer feeling high―tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). This means that medical formulations of cannabis can pack in all the pain relief effects you want without making you feel high.

Learn more about the Endocannabinoid System

What Is the Best Way to Use Medical Cannabis for Chronic Pain?

The best way to use medical cannabis to help alleviate your chronic pain is whatever way works best for your lifestyle and your pain-relief goals. Many individuals suffering from chronic pain opt for vaping as a cleaner and healthier alternative to combustion methods such as smoking or using a bong. CBD has shown to be a great alternative for pain.

At Hemper we carry a full line of legal forms of CBD Products that contain no more than 0.3% THC. Some forms include:

Vaporizers offer the ease of smoking without the harmful effects on your lungs, providing a fast powerful concentrated experience. Vaporizers melt cannabis concentrate at lower temperatures than dabbing or regular smoking, so you don’t get the plant matter, charring, and other chemicals in your lungs.

Considering making the switch from prescription opioids to medical cannabis for your chronic pain? Consult your doctor before attempting any new pain-treatment method.