Rise of medical marijuana eases abuse of opioids, study says

The rise of medical marijuana usage apparently has helped ease the abuse of opioids, according to two studies published Monday.

The research suggests that some people choose marijuana to treat their pain when available, thus avoiding more dangerous and addictive drugs, National Public Radio reported.

The National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine reported that there is good evidence that marijuana can be effective for treating pain in some instances.

"We do know that cannabis is much less risky than opiates, as far as likelihood of dependency," W. David Bradford, a professor of public policy at the University of Georgia, told NPR. "And certainly there's no mortality risk" from the drug itself.

Bradford and three colleagues — including his daughter, who is a scientist — conducted a study to see whether people who have easy access to medical marijuana are less likely to get prescription opioids. The answer, they reported in JAMA Internal Medicine, is yes.

"There are substantial reductions in opiate use" in states that have initiated dispensaries for medical marijuana, Bradford said.

Heifi Wen at the University of Kentucky College of Public Health was lead author on another study in the same JAMA journal and reached similar conclusions, NPR reported. Wen, with Jason Hockenberry at Emory University, used Medicaid data in the study.

The authors found that laws that permit both medical marijuana and recreational marijuana for adults "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. Nevertheless, marijuana liberalization alone cannot solve the opioid epidemic.”

About the Author