The Exit Drug: Opioid Abuse Drops In States With Legal Cannabis

Blackberry Medical Cannabis
Research suggests that cannabis may prove to be an exit drug people use to stop abusing dangerous opioid substances.

Less people get hospitalized for opioid abuse in states where medical cannabis is legal, according to a recent study, published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

The researchers tallied hospital discharges between 1997–2014 documented on state-level annual administrative records that were retrieved from State Inpatient Databases (SID). The databases – funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality – archive about 97 percent of all hospital discharges in each participating state.

Discharge records for 27 states were included in the study.

The databases did not include hospital discharges in Alaska, Alabama, Connecticut, District of Columbia (Washington D.C.), Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, and Virginia. These 13 states and Washington D.C. did not archive their records with the SID as of 2014. California, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and New York were also excluded from the study because the SID did not contain full-year observations of those states’ hospital discharges before or after medical cannabis was legalized.

The researchers compared the average amount of hospitalizations caused by opioid use in states with legal medical cannabis to average opioid-related hospitalizations in states where medical cannabis is still illegal.

Out of every 1000 discharges in states where medical cannabis is legal, hospitalizations caused by opioid dependence and abuse dropped by 23 percent and hospitalizations caused by opioid overdoses dropped by 11 percent.

There were 2.2 million hospitalizations caused by opioid dependence or abuse, and .4 million hospitalizations for opioid overdoses in these 27 states, during the period under examination.

The study also finds that in states where medical cannabis dispensaries were in operation opioid-dependance and abuse hospitalizations dropped by 13 percent and opioid overdose hospitalizations dropped by 11 percent.

Hospitalizations caused by cannabis use did not increase in states with medical cannabis legalization policies.

The author of this study, Yuyan Shi Ph.D., who is an assistant professor of family medicine and public health at the University of California in San Diego, concluded that the findings substantiated other studies suggesting that cannabis use may be a plausible strategy to alleviate the opioid epidemic.

“These findings were supported by the recent studies that reported reduced prescription medications (Bradford and Bradford, 2016), OPR overdose mortality (Bachhuber et al., 2014), opioid positivity among young and middle aged fatally injured drivers (Kim et al., 2016), and substance abuse treatment admissions (Powell et al., 2015) in association with medical marijuana legalization.”

Some government officials doubt that cannabis can stop opiate abuse.

Last Thursday, Ohio Governor, John R. Kasich, said that medical cannabis will not help reduce opiate overdose deaths in his state.

“I know it’s not recreational marijuana, not recreational use, but I don’t see a role for it in this at all,” Kasich told reporters at a news conference.

U.S. Attorney General, Jeff Sessions explicitly voiced his opposition to cannabis legalization before federal, state and local law enforcement officials a couple of weeks ago.

“I reject the idea that America will be a better place if marijuana is sold in every corner store,” Mr. Sessions said. “And I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana – so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another that’s only slightly less awful. Our nation needs to say clearly once again that using drugs will destroy your life.”

Dr. Shi wrote that although the study does not definitively prove that cannabis is the best solution to stop opioid abuse, its findings should foster further analysis.

“It is still premature to advocate medical marijuana legalization as a strategy to curb the OPR abuse and overdose epidemic, but the policymakers should take into consideration these positive unintended consequences while legalizing medical marijuana,” the article reads. “The findings presented in this study merit further investigations especially those to understand the causal pathways.”


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