In states where legal medical marijuana is available, there are fewer opiate-related hospitalizations, according to a new study. With legal cannabis part of the landscape, emergency-room visits for heroin and prescription-pill overdoses drop by 11 percent, UC San Diego researchers report in a review of hospital admission data published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence. And hospitalizations related to opioid dependence plummet even further — by 23 percent.
The study’s author, UCSD professor Yuyan Shi, took a look at hospital discharge data from 1997 to 2014. During that time, hospitalizations for opiate abuse or overdoses increased 300 percent in America — which makes sense, as prescriptions for opiate-based painkillers have quadrupled in that same time frame.
Shi noticed that not only did opiate hospitalizations drop when legal medical cannabis was available — ER visits for marijuana dropped, too.
“Medical marijuana policies were significantly associated with reduced OPR-related hospitalizations but had no associations with marijuana-related hospitalizations,” he wrote. “Given the epidemic of problematic use of OPR, future investigation is needed to explore the causal pathways of these findings.”
That’s research-speak for, “We need more research.” How likely it is that more funding will be set aside for work related to cannabis is unclear. The new head of the Department of Health and Human Services, former Georgia Rep. Tom Price, is no friend to medical marijuana.
Still, what research is out there speaks with one clear voice: Marijuana is useful in treating chronic pain, one of the chief ailments for which opiate-based painkillers are sought. And there’s even anecdotal evidence supporting cannabis as a substitute for heroin addicts. Current and former NFL players are also pushing to be allowed to use cannabis as an alternative to the “T-train,” the ritualized, team-sponsored dosing of prescription painkillers before games.
The facts are out there. Eventually, even the likes of Team Trump will be forced to admit it.
TELL US, have you used cannabis to treat chronic pain?