As America’s opioid crisis continues to spiral out of control, one Congressman is suggesting a sensible solution: Cannabis. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, a progressive Oregon Democrat who has for years advocated for marijuana reform, offered up the simple remedy earlier this week during testimony before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Health.
Blumenauer spoke passionately about the horrors of the nation’s opiate abuse epidemic and the federal government’s failure to adequately address the problem. “I appreciate the focus on the opioid crisis that grips every community, to some degree, and affects every state. Especially critical for our veterans, who are twice as likely to die of accidental overdose,” he told the subcommittee.
“As we’re slowly acknowledging the depths of the opioid crisis, which is good, we seldom acknowledge one of the simplest, most effective solutions: medical marijuana, cannabis. Now available in 28 states, largely driven by the voters, not the politicians,” he added.
The Congressman also disseminated a document titled the “Physician Guide to Cannabis-Assisted Opioid Reduction.”
The guide makes the following key points:
Cannabis Reduces Opioid Overdose Mortality
- In states with medicinal cannabis laws, opioid overdoses drop by an average of 25%. This effect gets bigger the longer the law has been in place. For instance, there is a 33% drop in mortality in California,where compassionate use has been in place since 1996.
Cannabis Reduces Opioid Consumption
- Cannabis is opioid-sparing in chronic pain patients. When patients are given access to cannabis, they drop their opioid use by roughly 50%.
- Cannabis use is associated with a reduction in not only opioid consumption, but also many other drugs including benzodiazepines, which also have a high incidence of fatal overdose. In states with medicinal cannabis laws, the number of prescriptions for analgesic and anxiolytic drugs (among others) are substantially reduced.
- Medicare and Medicaid prescription costs are substantially lower in states with cannabis laws.
Cannabis Can Prevent Dose Escalation And Opioid Tolerance
- Cannabinoids and opioids have acute analgesic synergy. When opioids and cannabinoids are coadministered, they produce greater than additive analgesia. This suggests that analgesic dose of opioids is substantially lower for patients using cannabis therapy.
Cannabis Could Be A Viable First-Line Analgesic
- The CDC has updated its recommendations in the spring of 2016, stating that most cases of chronic pain should be treated with non-opioids.
- The National Academies of Science and Medicine recently conducted an exhaustive review of 10,000+ human studies published since 1999, definitively concluding that cannabis itself (not a specific cannabinoid or cannabis-derived molecule) is safe and effective for the treatment of chronic pain.
Cannabis May Be A Viable Tool In Medication-Assisted Relapse Prevention
- CBD is non-intoxicating, and is the 2nd most abundant cannabinoid found in cannabis. CBD alleviates the anxiety that leads to drug craving. In human pilot studies, CBD administration is sufficient to prevent heroin craving for at least 7 days.
- Cannabis users are more likely to adhere to naltrexone maintenance for opioid dependence.
According to Blumenauer:
“This [medical marijuana] is the cheapest, most effective way to stop the crisis. Where people have access to medical marijuana, there are fewer overdoses, and people opt for it daily with chronic pain.”