A trio of recent studies seem to bolster the argument that legal marijuana can help combat the opioid epidemic.
Though it might sound counterintuitive to some, researchers have turned up strong evidence that providing access to cannabis can curb opioid prescriptions and prevent overdoses. These latest studies explore the issue from different perspectives, adding to an already growing body of research that’s demonstrated how marijuana is being used as a substitute to pharmaceuticals—particularly prescription painkillers.
1. People with severe arthritis that required reconstructive joint surgery are using more cannabis and fewer opioids.
Published in the journal Orthopedic Proceedings, a new study examined toxicology tests administered to more than 520 patients in 2012 and 2017. Researchers found that the “prevalence of preoperative cannabis use increased from nine percent to 15 percent while the prevalence of opioid use decreased from 24 percent to 17 percent.” Whether the two trends are related is not entirely clear, but the correlation is there and is in line with previous studies demonstrating similar findings. Additionally, in the new study, very few patients (three percent) tested positive for both opioids and marijuana.
2. The number of opioid prescriptions, days of opioid supply and patients receiving opioid prescriptions are lower in states that have legalized marijuana for medical or adult use.
Researchers analyzed more than 1.3 billion opioid prescriptions from 2011 to 2018, looking at the data to see if a connection existed between prescribing trends and marijuana laws. The number of morphine milligram equivalents prescribed each year were reduced by 6.9 percent in fully legal states and 6.1 percent in medical cannabis states.
“In other words, cannabis access laws reduce the average provider’s opioid prescriptions by the equivalent of half a kilogram of morphine,” the researchers wrote. The research paper was accepted by the University of Alabama Legal Studies division.
3. Opioid misuse dropped from 2016 to 2017, while cannabis usage increased.
The 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which receives federal funding, included some promising data points on the prevalence of opioid misuse among Americans aged 12 and older. Specifically, 11.4 million individuals misused opioids in 2017, compared to 11.8 million in 2016. On the other hand, about 26 million Americans 12 and older consumed cannabis in 2017, compared to 24 million in 2016. The increase in cannabis use was especially pronounced among individuals 18 to 25.
The survey authors did not attempt to link the two trends, but again, other studies have demonstrated that legal marijuana access is associated with reduced opioid overdose rates.
See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:
Three New Studies Reveal How Legal Marijuana Can Help Curb Opioids
At a recent address to law enforcement officials about crime and drugs America’s new Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that he was “determined that this country will not go backwards” and then preceded to make some of the most assbackwards statements about medical marijuana possible.
“We need to say, as Nancy Reagan said, ‘Just say no.’ There’s no excuse for this, it’s not recreational. Lives are at stake, and we’re not going to worry about being fashionable.”
He said, according to the Washington Post.
As if holding up the Reagan Drug War legacy like it was a golden era is not already backwards enough, he then dismissed what has been one of medical marijuana’s most promising modern day uses: opioid addiction.
“I’ve heard people say we could solve our heroin problem with marijuana,”
“How stupid is that? Give me a break!”
Well, stupid is as stupid does as someone used to say, and that’s some stupid shit Sessions. But if we are talking about actual science there is nothing that has become more clear recently than cannabis’s amazing ability to help individuals get off of not just heroin but also prescription opioid painkiller addiction, which is actually a more serious problem.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), powerful painkillers like Vicodin and OxyContin are responsible for more overdose deaths than heroin and cocaine combined, but you are surely not going to hear Sessions and his new Drug War team going after them – even though that would be moving forwards instead of backwards.
Fortunately, for those of use that know anything about the miraculous benefits of cannabis, the future is looking pretty green despite Session’s claims that the mighty herb has been “hyped-up”.
First of all, cannabis is one of the most powerful painkillers in the world. According to a recent news release by the National Academy of Sciences, the treatment of chronic pain is one of the primary therapeutic uses of marijuana and it has been found to be effective for everything from mild lower back pain to severe multiple sclerosis-related muscle spasms.
This is of course why medical marijuana users actually have a lower rate of using opioids and getting addicted in the first place. As a 2016 study in the Journal of Pain found; “cannabis use was associated with 64 percent lower opioid use in patients with chronic pain,”, meaning people are self-medicating with pot in order to avoid using dangerous prescription painkillers. This alone should be reason to make it widely available.
When it comes to actual heroin addiction, which is at an “alarming” 20 year high, according to a recent UN report, medical marijuana is the best way to actually move forward, despite Session’s infantile doublespeak.
According to a February 2017 press release from Mount Sinai Hospital in New York; “cannabidiol (CBD), a cannabinoid in the marijuana plant devoid of rewarding properties, reduces the rewarding properties of opioid drugs and withdrawal symptoms.”
“Additionally, CBD directly reduces heroin-seeking behavior.”
The press release states, also adding that
“CBD’s strongest effects were on the reduction of the anxiety induced by heroin cues.”
CBD is of course an extremely abundant and medicinal compound that also happens to be non –psychoactive meaning that any Drug War argument against it falls flat on its face as there is simply no “high” behind it at all.
Moreover, a simple natural substance that not only reduces the withdrawal symptoms associated with heroin addiction but the cravings that make it so hard to break and doesn’t even alter your state of mind in the process only proves how far removed from reality Session’s statements really are. Cannabis is a miracle medicine that is here to help us with even our toughest problems, serious addiction included.
The only possible reason that the government would want to keep marijuana away from the public is because there is serious money involved (tens of billions of dollars annually) in the prescription opiate game, no matter how dangerous.
By pretending to protect patients by attacking a real medicine like cannabis, Sessions only reveals that he is just another corporate flunkie protecting the big business kingpens who control him and the rest of the White House at this point. But Mama Marijuana is coming for them too.
That multi-billion dollar prescription industry is facing off against a plant so powerful that you would have to be blind to not see how this is going to play out. Why would you take an expensive chemical drug for your pain that is both potentially dangerous and addictive when a completely safe and natural alternative is available?
Legal marijuana is now the fastest growing industry in the United States and that’s only going to increase velocity as more and more states pass laws for medical and recreational use. Check out the chart below from the Washington Post that shows that in states that have legalized cannabis for medicinal purposes, prescriptions for a wide class of pharmaceuticals have dropped significantly. The most dramatic drop being in, you guessed it, painkiller prescriptions where the average doctor is prescribing almost 2,000 less prescriptions for these synthetic opioids a year.
That’s punching big holes in the corporate bigwigs’ pockets.
It also explains why the largest adversaries to the legalization are the pharmaceutical companies themselves. In Arizona for example, the biggest campaign contributions to the anti prop 205 campaigns were from Insys Therapeutics, a pharmaceutical company that produces painkillers. While 205, which would have legalized medical marijuana, was defeated, the margin was very small and the masses are already rallying for the next brawl. Its only a matter of time.
In fact, the latest poll out of Quinnipiac University shows that over 90 percent of Americans now support the medical use of marijuana, the highest number ever.
Despite the posturing, America is not going back to the Reagan era of waging war against medical plants that are actually solving problems that big corporations have only made worse – like opioid addiction. Jeff Sessions can stay stuck on stupid for as long as he wants because the tide has turned and the only thing better than see an idea whose time has come blossom into fruition is seeing an idea that was bad to begin with get swept away with the flotsam and the jetsam.
A survey released by JAMA Psychiatry on October 21 revealed that the number of American adults who admit to using cannabis has doubled between 2001 and 2013. In 2001, only four percent of adults admitted to using cannabis. Twelve years later, in 2013, the number had increased to nearly 10 percent. Concluded the survey:
“The prevalence of marijuana use more than doubled between 2001-2002 and 2012-2013.”
Many media outlets have noted that increased use coincided with a more lenient attitude toward cannabis on the part of American adults and an increased willingness to legalize the herb. The most recent survey from Gallup regarding Americans’ acceptance of cannabis reveals that 58 percent support full legalization of the plant and the many medical and recreational products that can be produced from it. This is a significant shift. The latest polling numbers reveal that the nation has gone from a minority (48 percent) supporting cannabis legalization in 2013 to a majority supporting it only two years later.
In 2002, at the beginning of the period covered by the JAMA study, only one-third of Americans favored legalization of cannabis, according to the Gallup numbers. Many speculate that the successful examples of legalization set forth by states like Colorado, Washington, and Oregon — and the resulting media attention devoted to these “experiments” — has begun to educate average citizens and has brought the topic into the mainstream. The JAMA Psychiatry figures obviously don’t account for this additional increase during the past two years.
As additional states come online and Canada screams its intent to the international community to legalize recreational cannabis within its borders, the topic of marijuana and its prohibition will become increasingly common in the media and on the minds of average consumers. This will encourage many to investigate the topic to learn the facts. Of these, many will conclude that cannabis is a safe and therapeutic herb that is considerably better than alcohol and opiates.
Increased use of cannabis and the economic and public health success of states like Oregon and Washington will continue to educate average Americans of the relative benefits of cannabis use, especially when compared to alcohol and pharmaceutical drugs and their negative, often life-threatening side effects.
Photo credit: Drug Policy Alliance
The consideration of medical cannabis as a treatment therapy for those suffering from alcohol addiction, including abuse and dependence, is rarely discussed. Understandably, diseases like muscular dystrophy, cancer, arthritis, and Crohn’s get most of the attention during debates over the efficacy of cannabis and safe access for patients.
Nevertheless, million of Americans suffer from alcoholism and alcohol-related disorders, including Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) and Alcohol Dependence Syndrome (ADS). Is medical cannabis, which has shown such amazing efficacy for dozens of serious conditions and diseases, up to the task of recovery treatment? Can it help those who have a demonstrated and serious disease like alcoholism to kick the habit?
Addiction: Key to Embracing Cannabis
Much of the controversy over the effectiveness of treating alcoholics with cannabis hinges on whether one perceives the herb to be addictive. Those who are critical of cannabis and its use as a treatment therapy for alcoholism claim that sufferers are merely swapping one addiction for another.
Because science has proven that cannabis is merely habit forming, but not physically addictive in any way, there is a complete lack of withdrawal symptoms. Heroin, prescription opiates, tobacco, and alcohol all are highly addictive at the physical level and offer a slew of undesirable and painful withdrawal symptoms.
It is commonly understood that severe alcoholism is accompanied by significant physical withdrawal symptoms, including seizures, irregular heartbeat, hallucinations, spikes in blood pressure, and tremors (the “shakes”). If untreated, severe alcohol withdrawal syndrome kills one out of three sufferers. Clearly, alcoholism is a public health issue that affects millions of Americans, many of them drinkers, but countless others who are innocent domestic partners, family members, or co-workers.
Cannabis, on the contrary, carries no physical addiction and offers no opportunity for overdose. Smokers and vapers also suffer none of the violent rages that often accompany severe drinking disorders. A nation of tokers will experience dramatically lower rates of domestic violence and child neglect than one populated by chronic use of ethanol in the form of whiskey, vodka, and tequila.
Overdose: Impossible vs. Easy
It must be assumed that some patients will not only leverage cannabis as a therapy to overcome alcoholism, but will also adopt it as part of a new lifestyle. While not all who use marijuana to overcome an opiate or alcohol addiction will continue use of the herb following their successful recovery, the issue of adults “swapping” one chronic behavior for another cannot be avoided.
Fortunately, it is impossible to overdose on cannabis, something that can’t be said of alcohol, opiates, and nearly anything else one might put into their body. In fact, when one considers that a hangover is the body’s response to low-level alcohol poisoning, society’s acceptance of alcohol and drunkenness does nothing to mitigate the fact that heavy drinking is a risky and often deadly activity.
One of the most common methods by which the “danger” inherent in a particular drug is objectively measured within the medical community is the rate at which it kills those who consume it. This is expressed by something called the LD-50 rating, which indicates the dosage necessary to kill 50 percent of test animals “as a result of drug induced toxicity.” In other words, LD-50 indicates a substance’s median lethal dose.
For alcohol, the LD-50 is about 0.40 percent blood alcohol level (BAL). Rutgers University’s Center for Alcohol Studies reports the lethal dose for alcohol to be between 0.40 and 0.50 percent. It should be noted, however, that body weight, metabolism, and several other factors influence how much one can drink before overdose becomes a serious threat.
But what does this mean in practical terms? A 100-pound person who consumed nine to 10 standard drinks in less than an hour would be in the LD-50 range. A more common example is a 200-pound person, who would have to consume only five to six drinks per hour for four hours to reach the LD-50.
In a 1988 ruling, DEA Administrative Law Judge Francis Young detailed the amount of cannabis necessary to achieve a level of toxicity that might cause death in humans:
“At present it is estimated that marijuana’s LD-50 is around 1:20,000 or 1:40,000. In layman terms this means that in order to induce death a marijuana smoker would have to consume 20,000 to 40,000 times as much marijuana as is contained in one marijuana cigarette. A smoker would theoretically have to consume nearly 1,500 pounds of marijuana within about 15 minutes to induce a lethal response.”
Not convinced? According to the National Cancer Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health,
“Because cannabinoid receptors, unlike opioid receptors, are not located in the brainstem areas controlling respiration, lethal overdoses from cannabis and cannabinoids do not occur.”
Some estimates peg the number of people who die from alcoholism and alcohol-related accidents at two million per year globally. Cannabis, fortunately, has never been responsible for a single death. Despite sensationalistic (and poorly researched) media reports to the contrary, cannabis simply has never taken a life. Instead of a toxin, like alcohol, cannabis is a medicine.
12-Step Programs Not Effective
Unfortunately, 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous, or AA (a form of therapy categorized as Twelve Step Facilitation, or TSF) fail to help the majority of alcoholics. It is estimated that more than two-thirds of those enrolled in such programs drop out prior to completion. In the United States, AA estimated that, as of 2013, about one million people regularly attended meetings at one of roughly 60,000 groups across the nation.
According to Dr. Lance Dodes, a retired professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and author of The Sober Truth: Debunking the Bad Science Behind 12-Step Programs and the Rehab Industry:
“Peer reviewed studies peg the success rate of AA somewhere between five and 10 percent. About one of every 15 people who enter these programs is able to become and stay sober.”
In 2000, Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly published a report that analyzed AA membership surveys collected between 1968 and 1996. The hard data is striking: 81 percent of newcomers stopped attending AA meetings within the first month. After 90 days, only 10 percent remained. After a year, participation had dwindled to only five percent.
(If you doubt society’s acceptance of unscientific 12-step programs, consider that the approach is applied to more than 300 addiction and psychological disorders, but remember that only five to 10 percent of those who participate in such programs are successful at kicking their addiction and actually staying sober.)
Clearly, a different approach is necessary to help the majority of those afflicted with alcoholism in the form of AUD or ADS who are not served by 12-step programs.
While a stoner stigma continues to plague heavy, daily cannabis users, it can easily be argued that marijuana consumers are not only preventing the damage to their bodies that would result from heavy alcohol consumption — including liver damage, ulcers and gastrointestinal issues, blackouts, heart disease, memory loss, and depression — but that they also are fighting off disease and using the herb in a preventative manner.
From a public health perspective, a nation of stoners is considerably less taxing and expensive than one in which the primary recreational euphoric activity involves the consumption of fermented vegetables and fruits. Mothers Against Drunk Driving should be embracing and endorsing cannabis legalization efforts because they result in markedly lower traffic fatalities and lower teen pregnancy. While preliminary, initial statistics from Colorado are proving that full legalization actually results in lower rates of teen use, less crime, and fewer traffic accidents.
The late Dr. Tod Mikuriya was a strong advocate of medical cannabis for a variety of therapeutic applications, including the treatment of alcohol dependence. Mikuriya published a study in 2004 that involved 92 patients, all of whom had been prescribed cannabis as a treatment for alcohol dependence.
“As could be expected among patients seeking physician approval to treat alcoholism with cannabis, all reported that they’d found it ‘very effective’ (45) or ‘effective’ (38). Efficacy was inferred from other responses on seven questionnaires.”
The report continued:
“Nine patients reported that they had practiced total abstinence from alcohol for more than a year and attributed their success to cannabis. Their years in sobriety: 19, 18, 16, 10, 7, 6, 4 (2), and 2.”
Many patients involved in the study reported that their symptoms of alcohol dependence returned after they discontinued use of cannabis. A whopping 29 of the patients who participated in Mikuriya’s study formerly used alcohol for pain relief, but all had instead converted to using cannabis for this task.
A significant portion of the study participants, 44, reported that they had used alcohol to treat a mood disorder such as stress, anxiety, or depression. Some also reported using booze to squelch the pain of PTSD. All forty four reported that they had successfully substituted cannabis for alcohol for the relief of their psychological ailments. Mikuriya stressed that cannabis has fewer side effects than both alcohol and prescription drugs.
A study published in the Harm Reduction Journal in 2009 and conducted at the University of California at Berkeley concluded with the recommendation that cannabis be used as a substitute for alcohol in the treatment of alcohol abuse. The study polled 350 cannabis users, finding that 40 percent used the herb to control their alcohol cravings and that 66 percent leveraged it as a replacement for prescription drugs. Even 26 percent of those polled used cannabis as a substitute for more potent illegal drugs, like cocaine and heroin.
The study was conducted by Amanda Reiman at the UC-Berkeley Patient’s Group medical cannabis dispensary. Said Reinman:
“Substituting cannabis for alcohol has been described as a radical alcohol treatment protocol. This approach could be used to address heavy alcohol use in the British Isles — people might substitute cannabis, a potentially safer drug than alcohol with [fewer] negative side effects, if it were socially acceptable and available.”
The study reported that 65 percent of participants used cannabis as a substitute because it delivers fewer negative side effects than alcohol, prescription drugs, or harder illegal drugs. Of those polled, 34 percent said they used cannabis because it has no physical addiction and, thus, less withdrawal potential. Nearly 58 percent of participants said they used cannabis because it is more capable of dealing with their symptoms.
In states where cannabis remains prohibited, it’s understandable that citizens would opt for a legal, albeit dramatically more dangerous, drug that is vastly easier to obtain. In states like Colorado and Oregon, where recreational use for those 21 and older has been legalized, those suffering from alcohol dependence now have the option of legally and conveniently visiting a dispensary or retail shop to purchase an alternative to a 12-pack of Bud Light or too many whiskey sours.
According to Dr. B.G. Charlton in the United Kingdom:
“Since hundreds of thousands of people in the UK and Ireland regularly get drunk during their leisure hours, it is clear that a lifestyle drug that induces a state of euphoric release is needed, and alcohol is currently the only legal and available intoxicating agent. Marijuana is probably a safer and less antisocial alternative to high-dose alcohol.”
There will always be a sizeable portion of the population that refuses to engage in illegal activities or deal with the black market for uncertain product. For these people, alcohol and tobacco are among the only sanctioned, legal, and encouraged euphoric activities in the majority of the United States. As cannabis becomes legal in more areas of the nation, especially at a recreational level, more sufferers of alcoholism and opiate addiction will be given the option of “switching” to cannabis.
Photo credit: Drug Policy Alliance.