A study released April 1, 2017, found an association between medical marijuana policies and reductions in opioid-pain-reliever hospitalizations. It also found no association between medical marijuana policies and marijuana-related hospitalizations.
Could this mean there is a cause-and-effect relationship between legalizing medical marijuana and reducing opioid-related hospitalizations? Potentially, but much more research is needed. Research like this is promising, however, because rates of abuse of opioid pain relievers have been rising in recent years.
The study was published in the Journal of Drug and Alcohol Dependence. The lead author was Yuyan Shi, an assistant professor of medicine and public health at the University of California.
Medical Cannabis and Reduced Opioid Hospitalizations
Abuse of opioid-based medications has been widespread in recent years. According to the publication Science, about 2 million Americans were addicted to or abusing opioid prescriptions in 2014, and 21,000 died from overdose.1
Dr. Shi had several interesting findings:
- Between 1997 and 2014, hospitalizations caused by marijuana and opiates increased 300 percent on average.
- In the states with legal medical cannabis, opioid-related hospitalizations were 23 percent lower than other states.
- In the states with legal medical cannabis, opioid overdoses were 13 percent lower than other states.
During her nearly two-decade-long medical career, Dr. Lora Brown has witnessed first-hand the damage that opioid addiction can cause. As part of a sustained effort to advocate for regulations to curb opioid medication abuse, she served on the Florida governor's Drug Policy Advisory Council. She also served as Medical Director at a non-profit called WAKE UP!, which worked on educating teens and their communities about the pervasiveness and dangers of prescription drug abuse. With the passing of Amendment 2 in Florida, Dr. Brown is now state-approved to make medical marijuana recommendations to a wide variety of patients. She knows that medical marijuana treatment, under the guidance of a qualified physician, can safely and effectively relieve pain, discomfort and other issues plaguing her patients.
Medical Marijuana Hospitalizations
Dr. Shi found legal medical marijuana policies did not have an association with marijuana-related hospitalizations. Importantly, this means medical marijuana states did not see a significant rise in marijuana hospitalizations after legalizing the medicine.
It's true: Marijuana does get listed as the cause of hospital visits from time to time. The exact number varies by state and by year. In fact, states including Washington and Colorado saw pretty significant upticks in marijuana hospitalizations after they legalized recreational marijuana. But these hospitalizations have been attributed to things like anxiety and panic attacks, commonly experienced by people who are using recreational marijuana and who are not used to the effects of the drug.2 The likelihood of someone fatally overdosing on marijuana is pretty much zero.3 On the other hand, the opioid addiction epidemic currently kills 91 Americans per day.4
Dr. Shi's finding could be an important indicator of the overall safety and effectiveness of medical marijuana, when prescribed by a qualified physician. Although more research needs to be done, it looks like medical marijuana does not cause more people to go to the hospital for reasons related to the drug.
What Was the Conclusion?
The data indicates an association: a correlation between legalizing medical marijuana and dropping rates of opioid hospitalizations. This study on its own does not prove that medical marijuana can reduce opiate abuse. After all, correlation does not prove causation.
What the data does show is a possible trend. It is a good basis from which to build. Using this study, researchers will be able to delve deeper into the effects of medical marijuana. Dr. Brown knows that medical cannabis is a great alternative to opioid medications. She has seen people get relief from severe pain and the effects of disease, without the addiction and dependence so often linked to opioid painkillers.
Scheduling a Florida Medical Cannabis Evaluation
If you are wondering if medical marijuana can help you deal with the ravages of disease, pain or age-related issues, please call the practice of Dr. Lora Brown, in St. Petersburg, FL, at 727-209-5470. Although the evaluation does come at a cost, the cost will be excused if Dr. Brown does not make a recommendation for medical marijuana.
What to Expect
Your first visit must be conducted in-person. You will come to our practice to discuss the health issue or cause of pain you are experiencing. Dr. Brown will ask about what you would like to accomplish with the use of medical marijuana. She will review your health history and diagnoses. If you are suffering from a qualifying condition under Amendment 2, she may recommend medical cannabis.
Amendment 2 requires ongoing visits with your medical marijuana doctor, after you have become an established patient. At Dr. Brown's office, these routine appointments can be conducted virtually using our eVisit video chat. Don't worry about leaving your home or place of work. Simply meet with Dr. Brown over video chat to maintain your medical cannabis treatment.