Article by Ephrat Livini, Quartz
Americans are in pain. Over 2.5 million people in the US are addicted to opioids, the US Department of Health and Human Services reports. About 80 die daily from opioid overdoses. It’s gotten so bad that even conservative state legislators want to legalize medical marijuana, arguing it’s a safer, less addictive pain killer.
Yasmin Hurd, a neuroscience, psychiatry, and pharmacology professor at Mount Sinai Hospital’s medical school in New York, writing in Trends in Neuroscience on Feb. 2, agrees. She believes weed legalization can lessen opioid addiction dramatically, and that scientists must join the cultural conversation about cannabis. She writes:
“Epidemics require a paradigm shift in thinking about all possible solutions. The rapidly changing sociopolitical marijuana landscape provides a foundation for the therapeutic development of medicinal cannabidiol to address the current opioid abuse crisis. We have to be open to marijuana because there are components of the plant that seem to have therapeutic properties, but without empirical-based research or clinical trials, we’re letting anecdotes guide how people vote and policies.”
Cannabidiol, or CBD, the non-psychoactive element in marijuana, can treat opioid addiction, says Hurd. Studies support the claim: CBD has been shown to attach to different receptors in the brain and reduce opioid cravings for weeks after ingestion, according to animal research. “Preclinical animal models have long demonstrated that, in addition to reducing the rewarding properties of opioid drugs and withdrawal symptoms, CBD directly reduces heroin-seeking behavior,” she explains. (Heroin is an illegal, street opioid; there are other legal prescription opioids sold in pharmacies.)
Plus, because CBD produces no high, its legalization isn’t likely to lead to a black market, Hurd notes. Illegal pain pill sales and use are common, on the other hand, and result in criminal charges.