A new study from researchers in Florida suggests that use of medical marijuana to help patients manage pain could help combat the ongoing opioid crisis that continues across the United States. The report includes a survey of thousands of patients who reported feeling less pain and functioning better both physically and socially after using medical marijuana.
It’s the latest in a series of studies on the potential of medical marijuana for pain management rather than use of effective but addictive opioids. The new study showed that people who used cannabis for pain management were able to reduce or completely stop use of oxycodone, codeine and other opioids for pain.
“The findings suggest that some medical cannabis patients decreased opioid use without harming quality of life or health functioning, soon after the legalization of medical cannabis,” the researchers wrote.
The Magnitude of the Opioid Crisis
Since 1999, more than 932,000 people have died from a drug overdose in the U.S., according to numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Almost 75 percent of those overdoses involved opioids. That’s about 700,000 people, slightly more than the entire population of Boston.
Those deaths include overdoses involving prescription opioids, heroin, and synthetic opioids (such as fentanyl). Opioid overdoses took the life of almost 69,000 people in 2020 alone. Since 1990, the number of overdose deaths involving prescription opioids increased five times, with more than 260,000 Americans dying.
While effective in reducing pain, opioids can have serious risks. This is one reason why many people have tried cannabis as a safer alternative to using opioids. For example, a study out of Colorado found that the main reason seniors in the state use cannabis is to help better manage pain.
Patients Had Improved Quality of Life
Other studies have shown that prescription opioid use dropped in states where medical marijuana is now legal. The new study, conducted by researchers from Florida State University and Emerald Coast Research in Tallahassee, focused on the health outcomes of those who made the switch (Florida legalized medical marijuana in 2015).
They surveyed about 2,100 patients who used medical marijuana to manage pain. They reported that about 90 percent of them said cannabis was “very” or “extremely” helpful in managing their pain and other medical conditions. Those conditions included anxiety, depression, insomnia, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Almost 89 percent said cannabis helped improve their quality of life.
Additionally, 75 percent of those who had previously used opioids such as oxycodone and codeine said they stopped or reduced use of opioids after starting the use of prescribed medical cannabis.
Also, almost 86 percent said that medical cannabis not only reduced pain, but also lowered pain levels to the point that it did not interfere with their normal social activities, a problem they experienced before taking medical cannabis.