Cannabis legalization reduces opioid mortality


States that have legalized cannabis have between 20 and 35% fewer deaths from opiates

We begin this article with one of the thousands of cases that occur each year in the United States and worldwide. After working more than 10 years in the US air force, Jennifer Baxter had to operate on one foot. The operation was unsuccessful and Baxter had to undergo two more procedures to fix his foot, which was disfigured, painful and mechanically incorrect.

After receiving a medical retirement, Baxter was prescribed 600 monthly pills, including 480 oxycodones, which is a generic version of the OxyContin opioid.

In a very short time, the oxycodone prescribed for a whole month lasted only 21 days. The consequences of his opioid addiction were terrible. She lost her career, gained too much weight and tried to commit suicide.

Jennifer Baxter heard that medical marijuana could be useful and began using it in the spring of 2016. She started taking it by balancing it with slow-release morphine to avoid opioid withdrawal symptoms. After few months she stopped taking opioids.

Currently, Baxter, 40, has a new life. She is getting married, is a volunteer in rescue of abandoned animals and is involved in her church. Baxter has lost weight and lives in Arizona, a state where he can legally buy medical marijuana for his pain, post-traumatic stress disorder and insomnia. She takes it every night and sometimes during the day.

There are thousands of cases like Jennifer Baxter’s. In 2017, 47,600 Americans died from opioid overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This terrible figure means an increase of more than 10% since 2016. In fact there are more Americans dying from opioid overdoses than from car accidents or gunshots. It is not in vain that President Trump described this as a national emergency.

Statistics show that the legalization of recreational marijuana reduces opiate deaths in the US by 20%, according to a study published on Wednesday.

The legal status of marijuana has changed a lot in the last two decades. 10 states and Washington DC have legalized recreational use and Illinois will do so next January 1. In addition,34 states allow medical treatment of cannabis.

Comparing the numbers of deaths from opioid overdoses before and after legalization, and between states in different phases and legalization status, the authors of the new article published in the journal Economic Inquiry have concluded that there is a relationship between legalization and use of cannabis and a 20% reduction in opioid mortality.

The article concludes that the reduction in deaths from opioid overdoses in states where legal access to marijuana is between 20% and 35%. The study places special emphasis on deaths caused by synthetic opiates such as fentanyl, the deadliest drug in the United States, according to the latest official data. Nathan Chan, an economist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, says the opioid epidemic has grown exponentially in recent years but that states that have legalized cannabis are not as negatively affected as those that have not.

Nathan Chan and colleagues Jesse Burkhardt and Matthew Flyr, of Colorado State University, say that states that have legal access through dispensaries have experienced the greatest reductions in mortality from opioid overdoses.

Although there are different factors at play, Chan believes that it could be that an increasing number of people self-medicate against pain through the use of marijuana, and not with opiates.

Chan said he would like to work on identifying the reason for this correlation and testing his replacement theory.

Keep in mind that cannabis is an herb that has not yet been fully studied and understood. Marijuana has been hailed as a medicine with potential capacity to treat all ailments, including cancer and the opioid epidemic. It has also been called “lettuce of the devil”, with claims that its use induces laziness, madness and even murder.

So many positions and theories can be explained by the complexity of cannabis. It is not necessary to think of cannabis as a single substance, but as a mixture of more than 500 chemicals with different dose combinations.

Since cannabis is essentially an amalgam of cannabinoids that until recently was mainly known in the black market, it has been difficult to draw conclusions from research on its effects. This is a reality in the area of ​​addiction and mental health, where there are too many factors that contribute to blur the idea of ​​whether cannabis can be useful or harmful.

However, in recent years it has been suggested that cannabis could be the great ally against the opioid epidemic. Precisely because of this, recent state regulations in the United States have approved medical cannabis as a treatment for opioid addiction.

Cannabis is less harmful than opiates, both for people and for society. Although there is a probability among 10 that cannabis can be addictive for some people, the risk is worth it because what we do know for sure is that opiates are addictive for all people.

In addition, the potential benefit of cannabis goes much further than a harm reduction strategy. A new review carried out in Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research shows evidence that cannabis could help with the treatment of opioid addiction symptoms, such as withdrawal symptoms.

The reason why cannabis can be effective in this way is that biologically, the human cannabinoid system and opioid systems interact closely in the brain. This is very stimulating for research because it implies that there are many promises for the development and use of cannabis-based medications in the treatment of opioid addiction.

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