legal marijuana

Does Legalizing Marijuana Have an Impact on Opioid Abuse Rates?

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States With Legal Marijuana May See a Drop in Opioid Abuse

Medical marijuana has been legalized[1] in 29 states and the District of Columbia. It is also available for recreational use in several states. Although the widespread legalization of marijuana is still a contentious topic, researchers have discovered that it may have a positive impact on reducing opioid abuse.

A study completed by the University of California San Diego looked at the rates of opioid painkiller abuse and addiction from 1997 to 2014. During this time period, nine of the 27 states being researched had implemented medical marijuana. In response to this, researchers noted an obvious decline in hospitalization rates related to opioid addiction. On average, overdose cases dropped by around 13 percent; abuse and addiction-related hospitalizations dropped by 23 percent.

These results are significant and suggest that the solution to the nation’s opioid crisis may be more complex than any single solution.

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Marijuana as an Alternative to Opioids

Medical marijuana is used for a variety of purposes, but one of the most common is pain management for chronic conditions. Its use as an alternative to opioid painkillers may be the primary reason for the reduced opioid abuse noted by researchers.

Marijuana has fewer side effects than opioid drugs. Notably, overdose is comparatively difficult and generally not life-threatening. The same cannot be said for other prescription drugs. In 2014, prescription drug overdose led to 25,760 deaths, nearly 10,000 more deaths than were caused by illicit drugs like cocaine and heroin. In that same year, there were no reported cases of marijuana-related deaths.

Of course, marijuana comes with its own set of potential risks and drawbacks. The drug affects a different part of the nervous system than opioids, but it does affect the brain of its users. Other risks, including breathing issues and increased heart rate, are especially common among people who smoke marijuana. Additionally, although it is not as addictive as drugs in the opioid family, marijuana can also be addictive[2] for chronic users.

The takeaway from the University of California study is not necessarily that marijuana is the solution to the nation’s drug crisis. Instead, looking at legal marijuana and opioid abuse statistics provides a new way of looking at the larger opioid problem in the country.

The Ongoing Search for Non-Addictive Pain Management

The reasons that people abuse opioids are varied and complex, but what we do know is that many people who are addicted to painkillers developed that addiction while taking those drugs legally.

Prescription drugs are often viewed in a different light[3] than illicit substances, encouraging feelings of greater social acceptability for taking these drugs. Additionally, prescription medications are easy to get hold of, either directly from a doctor or through friends and family who have legal prescriptions.

Knowing this, it seems clear that one of the first steps to eliminating prescription drug abuse is to modify the drugs available on the market. Reducing the availability of these drugs will help with lowering the number of new addictions that are developed. Replacing these drugs with alternatives that are effective without the high levels of addictive-ness may greatly help to mitigate drug poisoning.

Additionally, there is some value in replacing one dangerous addictive substance with another, less dangerous substance, even if that drug is also addictive. This “lesser of two evils” approach is not an ideal solution to the opioid crisis, but it can help to reduce the number of deaths seen in conjunction with drug use until a more long-term solution can be developed.

A Multi-Faceted Approach to Addiction

Managing the supply of potentially dangerous painkillers is only one step of many when it comes to tackling the drug problem facing our nation. For the individuals caught in the grip of addiction, individualized interventions and therapy are a necessity. If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction to painkillers or any other substance, {Rehab Name} can help. Contact us today for more information or to learn about what we’re doing to help reduce drug-related problems in our community.

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