Legalizing cannabis can reduce the need for opioid prescriptions

Published Feb 9, 2021 02:00 p.m. ET
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We know that opening access to cannabis can do a world of good for society as a whole. Medicinal patients get relief with fewer side effects, and recreational consumers maintain more power over their high, something that is a bit more challenging to maintain with alcohol, but what this plant has to offer goes a lot deeper than some instantaneous relief. Some experts believe that legalizing cannabis has a much less predictable side effect, and it’s that those who use it to relieve pain are much less likely to become dependent on an opioid.

What is an opioid?

Opioids are a group of medications that reach the opioid receptors and results in soothing effects that are comparable to morphine. Generally, an opioid prescription is provided for pain relief, but in some cases, these drugs can also be used in anesthesia to provide comfort during surgery.

Why we want fewer people to take them

The discovery of any painkillers was once an achievement dreamt about by world-renowned experts in medicine who knew that human beings sometimes needed more than a distraction to deal with pain. We’ve gone through quite a few different ones over the years, with many like codeine, fentanyl, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, oxycodone, and tramadol, that are still very much in use today.

Of course, we want people to have pain relief options that can help them to achieve a better quality of life, but we didn’t realize until recently how harmful these painkillers would be.

In the United States alone, 128 people die every single day as a result of opioid addiction due to overdose, and the sad part is that most of those affected didn’t go searching the streets for a quick fix. The majority started their journey down the wrong path by going to the last place you might expect their family doctor. Physicians prescribe thousands of opioids each week for various reasons, and it doesn’t take long at all to get hooked.

Unfortunately, without a reliable or consistent solution that doesn’t come with a side of addiction, doctors and health experts have few choices. They can either prescribe an opioid that they know will work well to instantly give relief, as is shown by decades of use and study, or give something that’s more natural like cannabis. Since the real, measurable benefits of cannabis as a treatment for pain are still so misunderstood, we need research before we can move forward, and one team is working on giving us the proof we need.

The research

One study, which was published in the journal Applied Health Economics and Health Policy, looked at statistics for opioid addiction and then cross-referenced them with regions that have implemented some form of legalization for medicinal patients. What they found was that in areas where cannabis was more freely available, people were much less likely to ask for or require a prescription for opiates, no matter what the cause of the symptoms.

This study also found that immediately following the legalization of cannabis, the total monthly spending on opiates for patients dropped significantly, from $267,000 down to a mere $95,000 and that the average dose of opioid also declined to 4.1mg from 22.3mg one month prior. This is excellent news for both those struggling with addiction and everyone else who might be impacted directly by opiates, which is pretty much the whole world.

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