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Two new independent studies indicate that medical cannabis programs can significantly curb opioid use for controlling pain.
The first study, published in the journal PLOS One, was conducted by researchers at the University of New Mexico, who looked at 37 patients with chronic pain enrolled in New Mexico’s medical cannabis program and tracked them over a 21 month period. A final survey of the patient pool found that over 80 percent of respondents significantly reduced their opioid use with the aid of cannabis; roughly 40 percent of the patients studied ceased all opioid use in favor of weed.
The second study comes from a private research firm in Illinois, Aclara. Although the Illinois study won’t be finalized until early next year, their preliminary data agrees with findings from previous opioid and cannabis studies. A press release published Tuesday stated that out of 400 patients in Illinois, 67 percent stopped taking all opioid drugs after enrollment in the state’s medical marijuana program; 37 percent stopped using all conventional prescription medications; and over 60 percent of respondents said they not only reduced their use of prescription drugs, but also took fewer trips to the pharmacy once they got on medical marijuana.
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Pharmacists themselves had something to say, too. The Aclara study also surveyed 500 Illinois pharmacists, and found that 87 percent of them agreed that cannabis should be legal for medical use, while 69 percent said they should be allowed to dispense cannabis products through pharmacies.
“Patients are using cannabis, successfully, to wean themselves off opioid usage,” says Carmen Brace, the founder of Aclara Research. “The results within this study, that 67 percent of patients stopped taking opioids, are also consistent with a Journal of Pain article from 2016.” That study found a 64 percent reduction in opioid use among medical cannabis patients reporting chronic pain. Last month, another study from DePaul and Rush universities drew similar conclusions about Illinois’ medical marijuana patients.
According to STAT, 100 Americans die per day from opioid overdoses. At the current rate, over half a million Americans could die from opioid abuse over the next decade.
One of the most eye-opening studies came last year from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The 2016 analysis found that states with medical marijuana programs, overall, saw 25 percent less opioid-related deaths compared to states without them.
“All retroactive studies indicate very similar results,” Brace continues. “I think, as more and more of us publish this type of research, within the confines we’re relegated to with the Schedule I designation of this plant, it’s really just increased the body of research to review this [plant’s ability] to resolve a national crisis.”
In August, President Donald Trump declared the opioid epidemic a national emergency, while U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has insisted that cannabis is a “gateway drug” that has worsened the opioid crisis — contrary to a snowballing quantity of medical and scientific evidence.