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Medical Marijuana Access Associated with Modest Decreases in Opioid Use

Updated on February 29, 2020.  Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer

Can access to medical marijuana reduce the use and misuse of opioids? Many marijuana advocates say yes, and a new study titled, Impact of Medical Marijuana Legalization on Opioid Use, Chronic Opioid Use, and High-Risk Opioid Use, has indeed found lower rates of prescription opioid use in states with medical marijuana programs.

The study authors looked at data from nearly five million insured adults between the years of 2006 and 2014 and, employing a number of quantitative methods, found what they called a “modest” decrease in all kinds of opioid uses—including occasional opioid use, long-term use, and problematic or “high-risk” use. 

Since the 1990s, opioid use and misuse have steadily increased—leading to an opioid epidemic—even though Americans’ self-reported experience of pain has remained the same. Opioids are still the most commonly prescribed pain medications in the U.S., despite a range of downsides. Among other things, opioids are known to be habit-forming and come with a real risk of overdose. In fact, during the 12-month period prior to July 2019, an estimated 67,000 Americans died from an opioid overdose

Medical marijuana, on the other hand, can also help with symptoms of temporary and chronic pain. Other studies have shown a correlation between patients’ use of medical cannabis and reduced opioid use and dependence. Cannabis also comes with fewer short and long-term health consequences, no risk of overdose, and much smaller rates of dependence—in fact, it’s often used therapeutically to help ease withdrawal from alcohol and other drugs.

See our post for a side-by-side comparison of Marijuana vs. Opiates. Interested in learning about how medical marijuana can help you reduce or avoid opioids and improve your quality of life? Find a medical marijuana doctor here

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