How Marijuana can lower opiate addiction and fatal overdoses

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Legalizing marijuana has many beneficial side effects to our society. The local economy and the medical industry are both well known benefactors of legalized marijuana; however, drug addiction can actually be fought with marijuana. 

The American Academy of Pain Medicine claims that over 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain. That's almost a third of the population. This has caused opiate prescriptions to double in the last decade. Not all of these pills end up used by the people who prescribed them. This has lead to our streets being flooded with these dangerous, addictive pills. Morphine and other synthetic opioids have led to outrageous overdose rates all over the country. 55 percent of drug overdoses come from prescription medications. 75 percent of this majority is caused by opiates. Street drugs are no longer the most deadly drug in circulation. 

Several other studies have observed the trend on opiate related deaths over the years. One study, published by the American Journal of Public Health, examined Colorado from 2000 to 2015; another study takes into account the entire United States from 1999 to 2010. Both studies determined that state legalized marijuana had a positive effect on deaths related to opiates. This is because marijuana can be prescribed to treat pain in place of opiates, leading to less people abusing the dangerous synthetic drug. 

The study out of Colorado was especially interesting because it took recreational legalization into account. Many other studies had already similar conclusions, but they took medical legalization into effect. The Colorado study show what can be accomplished when people are allowed to self medicate, not requiring a trip to the doctor. Patients in medical marijuana states often choose marijuana over opiates when asked by their doctor; in Colorado, people can make this decision before consulting a physician. 

Colorado was compared directly to Nevada in the study because Nevada had legalized medical marijuana the same time Colorado legalized it for recreational purposes. 2014 was the year recreational marijuana laws went into effect in Colorado. Within two year, opiate related deaths fell by 6.5 percent. 

The other study looked at medical marijuana laws and death certificate data from all 50 states. A mere 13 states had medical marijuana legislation on the books at this time. They instantly discovered a correlation between lower opiate overdose rates and states that had medical marijuana laws. On average, states with medical marijuana laws experienced 1,700 fewer deaths due to opiate overdose. Because patients in medical marijuana states were given a choice between marijuana and opiates, it lowered the number of people who were given hydrocodone, oxycodone, and other dangerous drugs. And when 60 percent of fetal opioid overdoses happen to people with prescriptions, it saved a lot of lives. 

Marijuana is safer for treating chronic pain for quite a few reasons. Most importantly, overdosing on marijuana is highly unlikely. It is also less addictive than heroin, having no dangerous withdrawal symptoms. 

The discovery that marijuana legalization brings with it a dramatic decrease in opiate related deaths has caused a conversation on Capitol Hill. In fact, Nanci Pelosi mentioned marijuana, along with yoga, as a way to deal with pain without consuming addictive, dangerous substances. 

The pharmaceutical industry is fighting back. In addition to their usual lobbying efforts, doctors over-prescribe opioids, and people fall victim to addiction everyday. The pharmaceutical industry doesn't want marijuana to be legalized because it would cut into their profits. They wouldn't have a foothold on pain treatment any longer. Some companies are even working to make their own marijuana products. If national legalization were to happen, pharmaceutical companies would have to make drastic changes to adapt or risk losing some of the market share. 

For many, the findings of these and similar studies isn't enough. They're right. The studies aren't direct corroboration. They only suggest that marijuana had an effect on lowering opioid deaths. However, the studies should be followed up on and given serious attention by medical professionals and lawmakers. Clinical trials would prove what these studies suggesting, leading to marijuana becoming the primary way to deal with opioid addiction. 

However, marijuana's ability to fight pain cannot be contested. According to Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics, there are four main components that give marijuana its pain fighting properties: delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, cannabidiol, cannabinol, and tetrahydrocannabivarin. 

No matter the findings, some in Washington will not be swayed. No matter the evidence, whether its due to long held beliefs or lobbying attempts from big pharma, some politicians will not vote yes on legal marijuana legislation. Not everyone is convinced that the effects of legalized marijuana will be all positive. 

Marijuana could benefit everyone from cancer patients to sufferers of chronic pain, but until Washington is convinced it is up to the local governments to make the decision for themselves. As new studies are made, and as more politicians vote yes on medical marijuana, we will continue to see more and more places using marijuana to prevent addiction and other disease and disorders.

Girl in a jacket

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