States with Medical Cannabis Use Fewer Opioid Drugs

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In an analysis of opioid use to be published this August in a medical journal, researchers found that many patients will turn to cannabis instead of opioids if given the option. This news is anything but for activists, who have long pointed out that the pain-relieving abilities of cannabis, as well as its ability to help people struggling with addiction, make it one of the most powerful tools in our toolbox for combating opioid addiction.

Now, actual research can help validate that belief. In this study, researchers compared opioid usage for patients using Medicaid and Medicare, as well as private insurance. They controlled for different age groups and looked at states both with medical cannabis programs and without them. The review of that data indicated that people used fewer opioids overall in states with medical cannabis. This conclusion applied to those ages 18 to 55, but not to the older age brackets. It was also impossible for researchers to fully control for whether federal crackdowns on opioid dispensing impacted the rate of use among individuals in any state whose data was part of the research.

However, this first analysis of data makes it clear that additional consideration is warranted. The chances are very good that the research will soon support with cannabis activists have been saying all along. Interestingly enough, they did not show a similar correlation or decrease in opioid use in decriminalized states or states with recreational cannabis but not medical cannabis programs that include pain as a qualifying condition.

That may have something to do with the social stigma attached to recreational cannabis. Patients may be more likely to seek cannabis for pain if a doctor recommends it or the state they live in approves its used for that purpose. For now, this research is only a first step toward some form of conclusive proof about the myriad medical benefits that cannabis offers.

For previous Ladybud articles about cannabis research, click here.