On any given day, about 115 people Americans will die from an opioid overdose. That number is startling, all the more so because opioid addiction in this country has been getting worse over the past few years as pain relievers, heroin and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl have grown in popularity.
It’s a problem that is quickly moving toward being a $100 billion per year issue for the United States, and, the problem screams for a solution.
Cannabis and Opioids
There is increasing evidence that the next frontier in combatting the opioid epidemic is cannabis. In 2018 New Jersey was first to turn to cannabis to fight opioid withdrawal, with Pennsylvania a close second.
Earlier this year, Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Rachel Levine approved the sale of cannabis flower, the traditional smokable or vaporized form of the plant, for use in dealing with the opioid epidemic.
“It’s another tool,” Levine said. “The whole ideal of this program is to provide another tool in the toolbox for physicians to treat these conditions.”
By being the first state to approve “addiction substitute therapy for opioid reduction,” New Jersey has opened up the possibility for clinical research in state health systems.
“This is major news,” Dr. Sue Sisley told the Tribune News Services. Sisley is the founder of the Scottsdale Research Institute, where she researches medical marijuana’s impact of PTSD in veterans. “We have all these opioid task forces in so many states, and none of them even mention cannabis as a substitution for opioids as part of the treatment strategy.”
As more and more Americans are drawn into opioid addiction, more and more avenues of combatting the problem are being explored. The case for marijuana as a possible answer to the problem stems from cannabis’s ability to reduce the symptoms for withdrawal and the studied belief that the use of marijuana to treat pain can reduce the need for opiates to begin with.
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in 2014 determined that states with medical marijuana programs had 25 percent fewer opioid deaths than states that did not.
Cannabis For Opioid Addiction
And a study published just this April in JAMA’s Internal Medicine journal underscored the boost cannabis can give those fighting to free themselves of opioid addiction. That study compared opioid prescription patterns in states that have enacted medical cannabis laws with those in states that have not.
Researchers, looking at opioid prescriptions covered both by Medicare Part D between 2010 and 2015 and opioid prescriptions covered by Medicaid between 2011 and 2016, found that states permitting the use of cannabis for medical purposes had 2.21 million fewer doses of opioids prescribed per year under Medicare Part D compared with those states without the availability of medical marijuana. Medicare Part D covers more than 42 million Americans.
“This study adds one more brick in the wall in the argument that cannabis clearly has medical applications,” David Bradford told CNN. Bradford, a professor of public administration and policy at the University of Georgia, was a lead author of the Medicare study. “And for pain patients, in particular, our work adds to the argument that cannabis can be effective.”
Cannabis as A Painkiller
As cannabis is in ascendency as a remedy for pain, it seems that opioids may be beginning to lose favor. In 2017 the FDA asked the maker of Opana ER to remove the drug from the U.S. market. Opana ER is a brand name for the opioid painkiller oxymorphone.
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