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Medicinal Cannabis Could Lead To A Drop In Use Of Dangerous Opioids


Jonathan O'Callaghan

Senior Staff Writer

Africa Studio/Shutterstock

A study by the University of New Mexico has found that medicinal cannabis may reduce the use of certain dangerous prescription drugs such as opioids. The research will be published in the Journal of American Medical Directors Association.

In 2015, more than 33,000 people in the US died from opioid use, which includes everything from prescription pain killers to street heroin. From 2000 to 2015, that number was half a million people.


So in this study, the team looked at ways to reduce those figures. They studied 83 chronic pain patients who had enrolled in the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Program (MCP) from April 2010 to October 2015. They compared these with 42 patients who were not involved in the program, but instead were on the Prescription Monitoring Program.

From the cannabis group, they found that 34 percent (28 people) stopped the use of prescription medications such as opioids in the last six months of the five-year period. In the comparison group, just one patient did the same. There didn't seem to be trends in the data relating to age and gender.

“Our current opioid epidemic is the leading preventable form of death in the United States, killing more people than car accidents and gun violence,” said Miguel Vigil, the study’s senior author, in a statement. “No one has ever died from smoking too much cannabis.”

(We had to double check, but that does indeed seem to be true.)


The authors of the study therefore suggest that programs like the New Mexico MCP could help reduce the use of prescription drugs. While there is a danger it could increase use of some prescriptions as a side effect of cannabis use, if it’s more effective than prescription drugs, then it could also lead to a decrease.

This follows up on previous research that found that cannabis can be a suitable alternative to prescription pain medicine. In June this year, a study found that 93 percent of patients would prefer cannabis over opioids to manage their pain.

“Cannabis can be an effective treatment for pain, greatly reduces the chance of dependence, and eliminates the risk of fatal overdose compared to opioid-based medications,” those researchers, led by the University of California, Berkeley, wrote in their study. “Medical cannabis patients report that cannabis is just as effective, if not more, than opioid-based medications for pain.”


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