Medical marijuana is legal in 29 states, the territories of Guam and Puerto Rico, and in the District of Columbia. In many other capitals, legislation has been introduced. The question of whether medical marijuana should be a legal alternative to opiates is a hot-button issue.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 91 Americans die every day as the result of a prescription opioid or heroin overdose. Opioid abuse is an epidemic in the United States and around the world. The overuse of opioids is only growing, despite aggressive efforts by medical professionals, lawmakers, and loved ones to reduce our nation’s reliance on these dangerous drugs.
In 2017, more and more baby boomers are turning to medical marijuana as an alternative to opiates. Medical marijuana advocates applaud these efforts, but skeptics doubt the claims that cannabis is safe and that it works to treat pain. Which leaves the more than 100 million Americans who suffer from chronic pain wondering whether medical marijuana is an effective treatment option?
In recent weeks, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) released the results of two studies that the agency funded. They analyzed data from states that have legalized marijuana, and they recorded the relationship between access to legal medical marijuana and opioid overdose deaths.
The NIDA looked at the states that passed medical marijuana laws and found that in these states the number of opioid deaths decreased over time. The incidences of overdoses became fewer and fewer each year after the laws were passed. States with legal medical marijuana laws had 25% fewer prescription opioid deaths than states where cannabis is illegal.
In the second study, this one conducted by the RAND Corporation, researchers found that there were fewer overdoses from opioids, lower numbers of prescriptions written for opioids, and lower reports of people using illegal opioids to treat pain in states where medical marijuana is legal than in states where it remains illegal.
In 2015, the Journal of the American Medical Association released a report that provided evidence that marijuana could be used to treat chronic pain. Researchers compared the effects of medical marijuana and placebos to 1600 people who suffered from multiple sclerosis. The majority of those tested reported benefits and reductions in pain levels after they started to incorporate cannabis into their treatment plans.
Arguments Against Medical Marijuana
Medical marijuana skeptics argue that cannabis is untested. They want more science and more tests. They worry about marijuana’s side-effects. They’re concerned that it may slow thinking and reduce motivation in some users. They’re against any form of smoked medicine, and they don’t understand how replacing one drug with another will slow the tide of prescription drug abuse.
Is Marijuana Safer?
When you ingest opiates, the narcotic dissolves into your bloodstream and moves to your brain. Opiates interrupt the signals to your brain and reduce the pain you’re feeling. Marijuana, when smoked, is absorbed by the lungs and sent to the brain, where it also works to reduce pain.
Over time, patients who take opiates regularly build up a tolerance. As a result, they take more and more pills to ease their pain. This increases their risk of addiction and the likelihood that they take one pill too many and overdose.
Marijuana, especially if smoked, can damage the lungs. The tar and resin from the cannabis and the extreme temperatures and byproducts that are released during combustion are far from harmless. That being said, there have been no reported cases of medical marijuana overdose fatalities. Repeatedly ingesting marijuana by inhalation may cause damage over time to your throat and lungs, but at least you won’t die if you take one too many puffs. And there are other, safe and still effective ways to ingest marijuana.
No. Medical marijuana may not be perfect, but the benefits are hard to ignore. Scientists and doctors from around the world are turning to cannabis as an alternative treatment for chronic pain. The science is there, but in many states, the laws are not. Marijuana is still illegal under federal law, and it’s unknown if the lawmakers in Washington will move to support the further use of the drug, or if they’ll ramp up efforts to curtail the spread of legalization.
If you’re considering switching from pain pills to medical marijuana, consult with your doctor and be aware of the laws in your state. Cannabis isn’t a scam, but it can get you in trouble with the law if you live in certain areas.
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