Marijuana and Opioids

Marijuana legalization is linked with lower use of opioids and other drugs.

Recent scientific research provides significant evidence that affordable, legal access to marijuana can be an important tool in addressing the crisis of opioid addiction and overdose. Contrary to opponents of reform who claim that marijuana use is a “gateway” to other drugs, multiple studies suggest that legal marijuana may be an effective substitute for many drugs like opioids, which are more addictive and dangerous than marijuana.

Marijuana legalization correlates with lower use of opioids and other drugs.

Research has shown a correlation between marijuana legalization and a significant reduction in opioid-related overdoses. The Journal of the American Medical Association published a study in 2014 which found that from 1999 through 2010, “[s]tates with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8% lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate compared with states without medical cannabis laws.”[1] Another recent study from the University of Georgia found that less restrictive marijuana laws were associated with $165 million in savings on Medicare spending for prescription drugs.[2] The authors’ findings suggest that marijuana is often recommended by doctors as a substitute for prescription medications to treat chronic pain, anxiety, and depression. 

Marijuana can help individuals in recovery from addiction and serve as a safer substitute for opioids.

A June 2016 study published in the Journal of the American Pain Society found that therapeutic marijuana use was associated with a 64 percent reduction in opioid use by patients with chronic pain. Patients also reported better quality of life and far fewer side effects.[3] The study involved 244 chronic pain patients using marijuana over a 15-month period. Researchers at Columbia University found that the primary active ingredient of marijuana reduces the severity of opioid withdrawal.[4] Their study also concluded that patients who used marijuana while undergoing treatment for opioid dependence were more likely to complete their program than patients who did not use marijuana.

[1] “Medical Cannabis Laws and Opioid Analgesic Overdose Mortality in the United States, 1999-2010,” Marcus A. Bachhuber, MD, et al., The Journal of the American Medical Association, Volume 174, Issue 10, 1668 - 1673.

[2] “Medical Marijuana Laws Reduce Prescription Medication Use In Medicare Part D,” Ashley C. Bradford and W. David Bradford, Health Affairs, Volume 35, Issue 7, 1230-1236.

[3] “Medical Cannabis Use Is Associated With Decreased Opiate Medication Use in a Retrospective Cross-Sectional Survey of Patients With Chronic Pain,” Boehnke, Kevin F., et al., The Journal of Pain, Volume 17, Issue 6, 739 - 744.

[4] “The Effects of Dronabinol During Detoxification and the Initiation of Treatment with Extended Release Naltrexone,” A. Bisaga, et al., Drug and Alcohol Dependence, Volume 154, 38-45.