Can Marijuana Ease The Opioid Epidemic?

Article by Christine Vestal, Huffington Post

Evidence is mounting that medical marijuana can alleviate chronic pain in many patients. But some doctors remain wary.

After a 12-year battle with debilitating abdominal conditions that forced her to stop working, marijuana has helped Lynn Sabulski feel well enough to look for a job.

Sabulski is among nearly 14,000 patients in New York state who are certified to use medical marijuana for one of 10 conditions, including her primary diagnosis, inflammatory bowel disease. Marijuana doesn’t address her underlying disease, but it does relieve her painful symptoms.

Nationwide, an estimated 1.4 million patients in 28 states and the District of Columbia use legal medical marijuana for a varying list of conditions. A much smaller number of patients in 16 states use limited extracts of the plant, primarily to treat seizure disorders.

In the midst of an opioid crisis, some medical practitioners and researchers believe that greater use of marijuana for pain relief could result in fewer people using the highly addictive prescription painkillers that led to the epidemic.

A 2016 study by researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that states with medical marijuana laws had 25 percent fewer opioid overdose deaths than states that do not have medical marijuana laws. And another study published in Health Affairs last year found that prescriptions for opioid painkillers such as OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet paid for by Medicare dropped substantially in states that adopted medical marijuana laws.

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