BOSTON (WBZ NewsRadio) — Last week, Rhode Island’s Department of Health denied a request to add Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) to the list of conditions that qualifies someone for a medical marijuana card.
But a growing number of studies suggest that opioid use rates drastically lower in states where people have legal access to marijuana.
That’s likely because opioids and cannabinoids (the compounds produced by cannabis plants) act on some of the same receptors inside the human body.
Rhode Island’s Health Director, Nicole Alexander-Scott, says “chronic pain” is already on the list for a MMJ card. Since “chronic pain” is the most common reason to be prescribed an opioid, she says anyone being prescribed opioids for pain can just refuse, and opt for a marijuana card instead.
This decision dangerously assumes that people with OUD are:
a) being legally prescribed their opioids by a doctor,
b) and are being prescribed it for chronic pain.
Many people suffering from OUD are in fact getting their opioids from illicit sources. They may be buying them off a friend. They may be stealing them from a family member’s medicine cabinet.
And in the case of OUD, people are simply using opioids to feed an opioid addiction. In this case, the drug is not being sought for chronic pain.
Red Flag: Roughly 80 percent of heroin users misused opioids first. They had OUD, not “chronic pain.” But Rhode Island’s Health Department seems to be essentially ignoring the fact that OUD is its own debilitating condition.
Here are five studies that suggest the Opioid Epidemic could be knocked down with more legal access to Medical Marijuana:
- This study looked at 13 states over the six years after they legalized medical marijuana, and it found a 33 percent decrease in opioid-related deaths.
- Another recent study found that states with marijuana laws see a decrease in all prescriptions filled for Medicare Part D.
- Then there’s this study that found that access to legal cannabis is associated with lower prescription rates of opioids.
- Yet another one, this time a study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, suggests there is a link between medical marijuana legalization and fewer opioid overdose deaths.
- And another NIDA-funded analysis shows specifically that medical marijuana dispensaries, not just marijuana laws, are associated with a decrease in opioid prescribing, self-reports of opioid misuse, and treatment admissions for opioid addiction.
New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania already allow patients with OUD to access medical marijuana, and PA has initiated clinical trials to get more data on exactly how marijuana could help ease the opioid epidemic.
But if Rhode Island officials want to wait “a year or two” for more studies to show the same outcome before adding OUD to the list, it will also likely continue to see the uptick in opioid related deaths that have plagued New England for the past decade.
Blunt Talk is a podcast about cannabis hosted by Brit Smith every Monday. You can listen to all previous podcasts on iHeartRadio.