Medical Marijuana Linked To 25 Percent Drop In Painkiller Abuse

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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Opioids continue to claim 91 lives a day across the U.S., but new research shows medical marijuana programs are drastically cutting down on rates of painkiller abuse.

Research from the Journal of the American Medical Association is adding to a growing body of evidence showing states with medical marijuana programs have lower rates of opioid related overdoses. Patients who are offered pot as an alternative treatment for chronic conditions are increasingly shifting off their prescription opioids entirely, reports WLBZ.

The researchers found states with medical marijuana programs in 2014 had an opioid overdose rate roughly 25 percent lower than the national average.

“Canadian studies, other countries have shown pretty clearly that cannabis therapy can assist in recovery from both alcohol and opiate addiction,” Dr. Barry Gordon, Medical Director at the Compassionate Cannabis Clinic of Venice, told WLBZ. “Cannabis on the other hand I think is safer in general than the Methadone and the Suboxone. And I think can be once again utilized as a kind of a replacement medication for patients to stop them from slipping back into the abyss of heavier opioid meds, alcohol as well.”

The designation of marijuana as a Schedule I drug alongside deadly narcotics limits researchers’s abilities to study the medical application of weed, but comparisons of opioid overdose statistics between different states at least suggests a medicinal purpose.

A study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence in March found that in states with legal weed, hospital visits for complications from prescription painkillers are dropping. The hospitalization rate for opioid abuse and dependence in states with medical marijuana are roughly 23 percent lower than states without legal access.

Emergency room visits for opioid overdoses are on average 13 percent lower than states without medical marijuana programs.

Medical researchers are not claiming pot will “solve” the opioid epidemic, but the study adds to a growing body of evidence that marijuana can be an effective alternative to the painkillers that often lead to heroin abuse.

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