In October 2017, President Trump declared the opioid crisis as a public health emergency. The opioid epidemic, which kills more than 100 people every day, is considered “the worst drug crisis in American history” as Trump noted. According to CNN, opioid addiction leads to more deaths than breast cancer. Worse still, access to special medications for people with drug use disorder is very limited—only 10 percent of them get specialty treatments.
A lot of anecdotes have given hope to the use of medical marijuana in treating opioid addiction. Most anecdotes show that compared to opioids, medical marijuana needs less doses and is more effective with less side effects (especially overdose and over reliance potential). Some also claim that by mixing medical marijuana with opioids, less opioids are needed because medical marijuana can strengthen the effects of opioids. While there is some evidence that medical marijuana can ease pain for chronic pain, little research has been done in this regard. Therefore, we still lack objective data to prove its effectiveness.
While most studies have pointed that medical marijuana is a non-addictive replacement for opioids, some studies do not find similar outcomes. A study done by Shalev and his research team in 2006 showed that opioids have little influence over rats’ cocaine consumption (While in another study, it showed that opioids have effect on rats’ heroin consumption).
Medical marijuana is not the only non-opioid pain treatment as well; there are more than 200 non-opioid medications according to Stanford University pain specialist Sean Mackey. Also, most researches show correlation instead of causation between medical marijuana and opioid abuse. However, correlation is very different from causation. For example, the consumption of ice cream and drowning are positively correlated. However, does this mean eating ice cream leads to more drowning? Absolutely not. So why they are correlated? Because people are more likely to eat ice cream in summer when people are also more likely to go swimming. The same principle can be applied to medical marijuana and opioids as well. The editors of the scientific journal Addiction concluded as follows: Given these limitations of the evidence, it is premature to recommend the expansion of access to medical cannabis as a policy to reduce opioid overdose risks in the United States and Canada. The research funding is also limited due to federal regulation. Therefore, we still have a long way to go before medical marijuana officially become a treatment for opioid addiction.
However, the future is still majorly promising as more people are finding research evidence to support it. Researchers from University of California Irvine wrote that: “In short, our findings that legally protected and operating medical marijuana dispensaries reduce opioid-related harms suggests that some individuals may be substituting with marijuana, reducing the quantity of opioids they consume or forgoing initiation of opiates altogether.”
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