Looking for another way to determine the impact of legal marijuana on opioid use, researchers at the University of Texas – Galveston decided to investigate the pattern of opioid prescriptions in states where medical marijuana is legal. They found a significant drop in opioid prescriptions, particularly among those between the ages of 18 and 55. They findings are published in Preventive Magazine.
Interestingly, the impact was only associated with medical marijuana. Researchers found ”no significant association” between opioid prescription rates and other cannabis laws such as legalized recreational use or decriminalization.
The study looked at data for millions of prescription drug purchases in states both with and without legal medical marijuana in 2016. They focused only on those with private insurance, not those using Medicare or Medicaid.
Second Texas Study
A second study in the Lone Star State, this one from the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, reveals that it may be possible to combine marijuana and opioids for pain treatment. The objective would be to lessen the amount of opioid needed to lower pain levels, according to lead researcher Dr. Vanessa Minervini. She said that “the current opioid epidemic underscores the need for safe and effective pharmacotherapies for treating pain.”
The research, which is currently under peer review, looked at the effect of marijuana and opioids on rhesus monkeys. Some were given a combination of the two drugs, others received only one. The researchers found that the monkeys experienced less cognitive impairment with the combined drugs than when they took each drug individually. That reduces a main concern of scientists, which is that combining the two drugs would lead to a larger loss of cognitive ability.
Latest Among Many
The studies from Texas are the latest in a growing line showing that access to legal medical marijuana correspondes with reduced consumption of opioids.
Researchers from a group of universities, including North Texas State University and the University of Florida, found a decrease in opioid-related fatalities in Colorado after legalization. More recently, researchers in Italy found a big drop in opioid sales after the country’s lawmakers (accidentally) allowed the sale of so-called “light cannabis,” essentially CBD products.
Researchers are focusing on ways to reduce use of opioids because of the sheer enormity of the problem. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now reports that about 218,000 Americans died from prescription opioid overdose between 1999 and 2017.
The CDC also reports that 48.5 million people in the U.S. have either used illicit opioids or “misused” an opioid prescription. The number of drug overdose deaths has never been higher,” according to the CDC, “and the majority of these deaths, 68% in 2017, involved opioids.”
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