Weeding Out Opioids

America struggles to find answers to the runaway opioid crisis, but the grass may be greener with cannabis as a solution.

More heartbreaking news about the opioid addiction catastrophe came from the Centers for Disease Control last week. The most recent fatal drug overdose data shows that opioid deaths have increased by 28 percent in the last year, and that about 116 Americans now die from opioid overdoses every single day.

And that’s nothing compared to what’s happening with synthetic opiates, including fentanyl — often used as an illicit “Hamburger Helper” to mix with street drugs, or satisfy addicts whose legitimate opioid prescriptions have run out. Synthetic opioid overdoses doubled over the last year, to nearly 20, 000 — and they continue to skyrocket.

But everyone should just relax and smoke a joint. No, seriously, they should use cannabis as their preferred form of medical pain relief. More and more studies are indicating that marijuana helps people kick their opioid use.

The most commonly prescribed opioids are oxycodone and hydrocodone, better known as OxyContin and Vicodin. Heroin, fentanyl, and morphine are also classified as opioids.

Opioids are potent at relieving pain, and also produced the beloved euphoric effect. But they’re massively problematic in terms of addiction and death, whereas cannabis provides pain relief without those particular side effects. 

A report just published by the Minnesota Dept. of Health found a 62 percent decrease in opioid use among people prescribed cannabis. A 2016 Journal of Pain study found that “medical cannabis use was associated with a 64-percent decrease in opioid use” among its subjects, and a separate Journal of Pharmacology study found more than 76 percent of opioid users were able to reduce their consumption by using marijuana.

“A majority of patients reported using less opioids as well as fewer medications to treat anxiety, migraines, and sleep after initiating MC (medical cannabis). A smaller portion used less antidepressants or alcohol,” Journal of Pharmacology researchers concluded.

These aren’t patients being sent to rehab or enrolled in structured recovery programs. These are patients simply being prescribed marijuana, and the weed is doing the work of cutting down their opioid use on its own.

This doesn’t mean cannabis magically cures opioid addiction, it just tells us us that Oxy and Vicodin users do less of their opioids when they have access to legal marijuana.

But that’s still significant. When you consider opioid-related deaths, a frequently cited study of Colorado found these fatalities went down more than 6 percent in the first year that state legalized recreational marijuana. Colorado opioid deaths had increased in each of the previous 14 years.

These are just a handful of studies, and critics note that the most of the patients’ results are self-reported. (Except the one about opioid deaths, as death is not something you can successfully lie about.)

America’s drug problem isn’t just opioids. In recent years, federal authorities report massive increases in fatal overdoses on opioids, heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamines.

But there’s one drug that has not caused more fatal overdoses. Even the D.E.A. admits in their latest annual analysis that “No deaths from overdose of marijuana have been reported.”