Medical marijuana can reduce addiction to opioid pain medications

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By Tuesday, Oct 31 Letters  3 Comments

To the Editor:

The recent Edge article on the opioid pain medication epidemic paints a stark and pessimistic picture about “legal” drugs that have already killed over two hundred thousand Americans and addicted many more. Thankfully we are beginning to talk openly about marshaling some important resources that are now available to help us cope with this catastrophe. Right now something new is happening in Massachusetts and in town of Great Barrington that can provide a useful tool to combat this deadly epidemic and help us limit its public health toll. A very important new resource, Medicinal Cannabis, has shown promising results to reduce the dangers of opiate pain medications.

Dramatic evidence of the capabilities of cannabis to reduce overdose deaths due to opioids was published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association, where a group of medical researchers from Montefiore Hospital and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx found that the 29 states which have medical marijuana programs also have much lower rates of opiate overdose deaths, as compared to those states which do not offer this access to medicinal cannabis. These researchers used data from the CDC to chart opioid-related deaths in each state from 2000 through 2015 – the period of a 400 percent rise of overdose deaths in the US. This analysis showed “a statistically significant reduction” in the trend of opioid-related deaths – as much as 40 percent in some states which had made medical cannabis available earliest and for the longest periods.

Experts in addiction and harm reduction have known for years that one of the most important uses of medical marijuana is for pain reduction. In Massachusetts it has now become possible to get medicinal cannabis of known potency and quality through the expansion of the medical marijuana programs and doctors prescriptions in Massachusetts, which became the eighteenth state to allow medical marijuana … as of December 15, 2016, following a ballot initiative in November of that year.

The use of medical marijuana for pain reduction today represents the largest single reason for prescriptions for marijuana in those states that already have medical marijuana. These programs now legally serve over 1.2 million clients in 29 states – some for over 20 years.

California’s Compassionate Use Act of 1996, was the first medical marijuana ballot initiative to allow the medical use of cannabis in America, and has served hundreds of thousands in that period, reducing suffering from many painful medical problems and saving many lives from opiate overdoses .

The legal availability of cannabis and it’s use to treat pain now opens an opportunity for us to learn through this experience and save many lives in our state. It can reduce the amount of addictive opioids now being so widely prescribed and, where opiate pain meds are appropriate, can help wean patients off the high doses of these addictive and dangerous “Legal” drugs. We must now learn all we can about these benefits and work closely with our local medical and psychiatric professionals who wish to participate in these programs. Let us take advantage of this opportunity and recognize that pot may indeed be a “gateway “ drug – one that can opens a new pathway to lowered rates of addiction and fewer overdoses in Massachusetts – which has already had over 13,000 overdose deaths, many of which might have been prevented if medical marijuana was in use in Massachusetts.

Ernest Drucker, Ph.D.
Great Barrington
The writer is a research scientist and professor of public health at the New York University College of Global Public Health as well as professor emeritus of family and social medicine at  Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine

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3 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Richard Squailia says:

    Thank you for lending an expert voice to this issue. Our communities need a variety of tools to deal with the life situations many of our neighbors are faced with and you describe what has been shown to be a valid approach.
    Recent voter and legislative changes to our laws regarding the compassionate use of drugs such as marijuana, and the lessening of the crushing legal penalties for its use, are to be applauded.

  2. peter greer says:

    Thank you Dr Drucker for weighing in on a complex disease that seems to be immune to the ongoing multifaceted effort of so many groups and individuals in our community. A science based approach , that identifies the specific strains ( there are at minimum 800)that relieve pain and address the addictive elements of opioids should be “high” on the list of prescriptions for medicinal cannabis. When Oxy or other high potency and highly addictive drugs are needed and prescribed , a script for medical pot geared towards weaning the user off opioids should be given as well . As Dr drucker states pot may be a gateway drug ; one that saves lives.

    1. ERNEST DRUCKER says:

      OPIATE PAIN MEDICATIONS CAN BE SAFE AND EFFECTIVE IN THE RIGHT DOSES FOR SPECIFIC CONDITIONS , BUT THE RIGHT TYPES OF CANNABIS IN THE RIGHT DOSES CAN SUPPLEMENT THE ANALGESIC EFFECTS OF OPIOID MEDICATIONS AND ALLOW THE USE OF LOWER DOSES, THEREBY REDUCING RISKS OF BOTH ADDICTION AND OVERDOSE – THE REASON WHY STATES WITH ACCESS TO MEDICAL MARIJUANA HAVE LOWER RATES OF OPIATE OVERDOSE DEATHS. IN FACT THE SOURCE OF OUR NATIONS OPIOD CATASTROPHE IS NOT THE DRUGS PER SE – BUT THE GREED AND CORRUPTION OF THE PHARMACEUTICAL INDUSTRY WIHCH MAKES BILLIONS FROM THEIR MISREPRESENTATION AND “RUTHLESS” MARKETING RESPONSIBLE FOR THE EPIDEMIC OF ADDICTION AND HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF NEEDLESS DEATHS – FOR THE WHOLE STORY SEE “EMPIRE OF PAIN” IN THE OCT 30 NEW YORKER MAGAZINE .

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