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Legalization of Cannabis Reduces Opioid Prescriptions by 30%

Emily Robertson
Opioid Pills beside cannabis bud

Study reveals specific data and stats to prove that cannabis is successfully replacing Schedule III opioid prescriptions.

What a shocker! Once more, researchers have proven that in areas where medical cannabis is legal, opioid prescriptions have dramatically decreased. The study, published July 10th of this year, looked specifically at the United States and examined rates of opioid prescriptions versus cannabis prescriptions to understand the effects on Medicaid expenses.

Opioid Pills spilling from bottle

Image Credit: Anthony Pitch

This study simply backs up others that have also demonstrated that medical cannabis reduces use of opioids. This doesn’t make the recent study any less important though – the more studies available, the more evidence to prove, beyond a doubt, the effects of the plant. For scientific accuracy, it’s critical for researchers to study time and again, using a variety of methods and sample sizes, to ensure previous outcomes weren’t misread or skewed.

Opioid Pills beside cannabis bud

Image Credit: Roxana Gonzalez

The Study

The study was conducted by researchers from the University of California and Weill Cornell Medical College, and was published in the journal Addiction. The researchers examined the effects of medical cannabis on opioid prescriptions from 1993 to 2014.

They discovered that legalization of medical cannabis reduced Schedule III opioid prescriptions by 30%, though appeared to have no effect on the stronger Schedule II opioids. The pain relief achieved through cannabis is similar to that of Codeine, a Schedule III, but does not appear to be able to treat much more severe pain like that associated with the prescription of Schedule II opioids. Unfortunately for many on this class of drugs, it does not seem likely that cannabis will replace their opioids any time soon – but further research is required.

Sour Diesel buds in a prescription bottle

Image Credit: M Wessel Photo

But that 30% goes a long way. Researchers concluded that the reduction in opioid prescriptions saves $7.46 million every year in federal spending for Medicaid, and a further $6.54 million for state spending. This makes sense – on top of being less harmless and non-addictive, cannabis is much cheaper than opioid prescriptions.

The study then went on to state that had every state ‘legalized medical cannabis by 2014, Medicaid annual spending on opioid prescriptions would be reduced by 17.8 million dollars.’ Well, there’s no going back in time to fix that but looking forward, those financial projections can be used as a carrot to influence politicians towards legalization.

Politician against American flag

Image Credit: Niyazz

Where Do We Go From Here?

Canada is a slightly different model than the United States, having a completely different healthcare system in place. However, there’s no doubt that savings would be had on a federal, provincial, and personal level if prescribing medical cannabis became the norm (over opioids). Research needs to be conducted to understand the effects and outcomes of medical cannabis on opioid prescription in Canada. And as legalization offers greater opportunities for funding, hopefully we will gain better insight into the effects of cannabis in upcoming years.

Canada Flag with Cannabis Leaf

Image Credit: Castleski

Other than that, it’s about tackling the ways to emphasize the analgesic effects of cannabis. It is a very effective painkiller, but many patients report that cannabis is just not enough for severe pain. An interesting problem, however, exists for patients that are using opioids and cannabis at the same time – the opioids can interfere with the binding of cannabinoids to CB1 and CB2 receptors. This means that the presence of opioids could actually reduce the effectiveness of cannabis medicine. Thus, the reports may not be entirely accurate.

Table full of stuff for taking heroin

Image Credit: Tanakom Khamad

Another shift that needs to happen is that of doctors using cannabis as a front line medicine by allowing patients to try it first.  Many doctors still go for the go-to prescription of opioids. Be sure to advocate for yourself. Ask for cannabis. Try it first and see of it can effectively manage your pain. You will be saving yourself money and a probably lifetime addiction.

Emily Robertson

Emily Robertson has been writing freelance and contract work since 2011. She has written on a variety of topics, including travel writing of North America and the growing legalized cannabis industry across the globe. Robertson has a master’s degree in literature and gender studies, and brings this through in her writing by always trying to explore different perspectives. Born and raised in southwestern Ontario, Robertson moved to Glasgow, Scotland in 2016 to undergo her doctorate in Scottish Literature. She lives in the West End with her dog, Henley.

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