Studies show legal marijuana could help curb opioid crisis

Lead author Hefei Wen found that both medical and recreational marijuana "have the potential to reduce opioid prescribing for Medicaid enrollees, a segment of population with disproportionately high risk for chronic pain, opioid use disorder and opioid overdose". Instead of offsetting the number of deaths and number of people addicted, the studies suggest that legalizing marijuana could drive down the number of opioid prescriptions.

According to the results of the survey, four out of five study participants approved the use of medical marijuana when it is prescribed by a physician, and forty percent approved the use of marijuana for any reason. Patients in states that allowed them to grow marijuana at home also showed a dip with 7 percent fewer daily doses. Researchers compared states that had medical marijuana laws with those that didn't have these laws in place.

During the timeframe of this study, 14 states and the District of Columbia had medical marijuana laws at the beginning of the study.

Two-thirds of the poll respondents said that the government needs to do more to find out about marijuana's health effects.

However, researchers say that now, opioid prescribing rates remain three times higher than in 1999. States with recreational marijuana laws saw an average reduction of 6.38 percent.

"On the other hand there may be a role - and there likely is a role - for medical marijuana in reducing the use of prescribed opioids for the management of pain".

The studies were published Monday in the Journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

Jonathan Zaid, founder of Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana, said his advocacy group met ministers, department officials and various MPs to explain the merits of exempting all cannabis-based pharmaceuticals from the excise tax.

The Liberals heard concerns about the proposal to apply an excise tax to medical cannabis products through two separate consultations held previous year - one by the Finance Department, the other by Health Canada.

"That does make this a hard area to study, and that's unfortunate because we have a large problem with the opioid epidemic", Olfson says.

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