The research is scheduled to be published in the April print edition of the scientific journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence. It comes just weeks after Attorney General Jeff Sessions called cannabis a “life-wrecking dependency” only “slightly less awful” that heroin, reports Thadeus Greenson at the North Coast Journal.The study, authored by Yuyan Shi, shows that hospitalizations for complications from opioid use and dependence are about 23 percent lower in states with legal access to medicinal cannabis, than in states without it. It examined records of hospital discharges from 27 states from 1997 to 2014. Nine of them had legalized medical marijuana.
Multiple Studies Agree
Shi’s study is the fifth in recent years to show declines in opioid dependence in states where medicinal cannabis is legal, reports Reuters.
One 2014 study showed opioid deaths dropped an average of 25 percent in states where medical marijuana is legal. Data released just a month ago suggests that given the choice, many patients prefer cannabis over opioids as a painkiller.
Numbers were gathered for hospitalizations related to “marijuana dependence or abuse,” opioid dependence or abuse, and opioid overdoses.No correlation was found between legalized medical marijuana and higher rates of cannabis-related hospitalizations, according to researchers. What they did find were sharp drops in opioid-related hospital visits in states that allowed medicinal cannabis use.
Besides hospitalizations related to opioids dropping by almost a quarter in medical marijuana states, researchers also found those states recorded 13 percent fewer opioid overdoses than in non-marijuana states.
4,000 Americans Die From Opioid Overdoses Each Year
About 33,000 Americans died of opioid overdoses in 2015. That means 91 people a day die from these drugs. If, as the new study indicates, marijuana could cut those numbers by 13 percent, that would be 12 lives saved every day — more than 4,000 lives a year.“It is becoming increasingly clear that battling the opioid epidemic will require a multi-pronged approach and a good deal of creativity,” said Dr. Esther Choo, an emergency medicine professor at Oregon Health and Science University who was not involved in the study. “Could increased liberalization of marijuana be part of the solution? It seems plausible.”
So Why Doesn’t This Happen?
One huge reason is likely that manufacturers of opioid painkillers outspend even the gun lobby on campaign contributions and lobbying, by a ratio of eight to one. The pharmaceutical lobby often spends big bucks opposing marijuana legalization on the state level. One firm involved in manufacturing the potent synthetic opioid Fentanyl recently spent half a million dollars to defeat a legalization initiative in Arizona, for instance.
Maddeningly, some of these same Big Pharma companies are now seeking, and getting, permission to market cannabis derivatives, even as they oppose legalization of organic cannabis flowers. That seems to be the rationale behind a push to move marijuana to Schedule II or III on the Controlled Substances list: handing control of it over to Big Pharma while continuing to arrest boutique, organic mom-and-pop producers of marijuana.