• Researchers have concluded that some highly addictive opiates can be replaced by medical marijuana. However, this substitution is mainly prevented by law - in many countries cannabis is still illegal as a medical device

Opioid prescriptions have fallen in states where laws allow legal access to marijuana, as evidenced by two studies published on April 2, 2018 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

New findings suggest that access to medical marijuana may reduce the need for opiates, as patients can only control pain with marijuana, the researchers said.

"There is substantial evidence that marijuana can relieve pain without the risk of addiction - unlike opiates and virtually no risk of overdose," said study leader Hefei Wen, Assistant Professor of Health and Policy Management at the University of Kentucky, Public Health Lexington and Kentucky . "Potential marijuana legalization laws that restrict the use of addictive opiates deserve attention, especially in countries that have been hit hard by the opiate epidemic."

The results of studies suggest that it is possible to replace opiates

In one study, Wen and his colleague Jason M. Hockenberry, associate professor of Emory University health policy in Atlanta, analyzed opioid prescribing rates in 2011 and 2016 for Medicaid enrollees - a population at relatively high risk of chronic pain and opioid dependence, he said. Wen. They found that opiate prescribing rates in countries that have legalized medical marijuana have fallen by an average of 5.9 percent a year. What's more, they say

In the second study, another team of researchers looked at the amount of opiate prescriptions completed by Medicare in all US states from 2010 to 2015 . Studies suggest that marijuana use is increasing the fastest among older Americans - the group that is most likely to have the various types of pain that respond best to marijuana, the researchers say.

Opioid prescriptions have fallen by an average of 2.21 million daily doses per year in states where medical marijuana is legalized - a decrease of 8.5% - compared to prescriptions in countries where marijuana is not legalized.

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Marijuana Vs. Opiates

Studies show that cannabinoids - the chemical in cannabis plants - may be effective in relieving certain types of pain, and a "giant pile of anecdotal evidence from patients" suggests that some who have started using medical marijuana for chronic pain need less opioids. Kevin Hill, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School who did not participate in the studies.

"And now, with these two papers and several previous studies, we have ample evidence to show that we really need to think of cannabis as a potential way to reduce the opiate crisis," said Hill, whose words were published alongside both studies in the same journal. .

How opiate addiction arises

Opiates are a type of potent painkiller, including drugs such as OxyContin (oxycodone) and Vicodin (a combination of hydrocodone and acetaminophen). Opioids bind to opioid receptors in the body and cause feelings of euphoria. They are highly addictive and can lead to drug abuse, serious complications and overdose deaths.

The number of Americans dying from opiate overdoses is still rising; In 2016, 42,000 deaths were recorded in the United States, an increase from 33,000 deaths in 2015, according to a March 30 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Most people, including adolescents with opiate use disorders, start with a prescribed prescription medication from a health care provider. Marijuana may be an alternative for some of these patients, experts say. The cannabinoids in the drug bind to the body's cannabinoid receptors, which are part of the internal pain system.

Suitable alternative

However, it may not be possible to replace all types of painkillers with marijuana . Clinical studies so far suggest that marijuana is effective in relieving chronic pain, neuropathic pain (pain caused by damage to the nervous system), and uncontrollable and continuous muscle contractions associated with multiple sclerosis. But to find out if marijuana is just as effective for other types of pain, more research is needed, Hill told Live Science. [Could we defeat the opiate epidemic by relieving marijuana pain?]

What's more, a study of prescription data from states can only reveal a link between marijuana medicine laws and the reduction of opiate use; it cannot show a cause-and-effect relationship, Hill said.

Future studies should look more closely at the link between conducting randomized clinical trials to determine the effects of marijuana use on pain or monitoring patients to see if marijuana has helped them to avoid or reduce opiate use.

Marijuana alone cannot solve the country's opiate problem. "It's just one aspect of a comprehensive epidemic package," Wen told Live Science. Other basic strategies include providing appropriate pain treatments and various non-opioid and non-medical alternatives, as well as improving access to addiction treatment.

Source: study , image: www.leafly.com, www.marijuana.com