New York State Is Hoping Medical Marijuana Can Stem the Opioid Crisis
Let’s talk about New Yorkers, Opioids, and medical marijuana. New York, along with the rest of America, is in the grips of an epidemic of opioid-related deaths, and many medical professionals and lawmakers are coming to the conclusion that medical marijuana might just be the remedy. And New York appears to be willing to become the ultimate experiment to test that theory. If officials are correct, positive results in New York might be the sunlight showing the way out of the cave for the entire nation.
The Opioid Crisis In a Nutshell
Opioid-related drug overdoses are now the leading cause of preventable deaths in the U.S. with approximately 100 Americans dying every day as a result of either taking too many pills in a short period of time or using the drug over a period of time. Recent celebrities that have fallen victim of the crisis include Tom Petty and Prince.
According to recent studies (links below), there is a distinct connection between cessation or reduction of opioids and enrollment in that state’s medical cannabis program. The results of these studies indicated that a large percentage of patients completely substituted their opioid prescriptions with medical cannabis. Improvements in pain reduction, quality of life, social life, activity levels, and concentration also improved.
Furthermore, those who didn’t stop using opioids generally lowered their daily dose or needed the opioid drug less frequently. By the end of the 21 month observation period, researchers saw a 47 percent reduction in daily opioid dosages. Here’s what the researchers had to say at the end of the study:
Current levels and dangers of opioid use in the U.S. warrant the investigation of harm-reducing treatment alternatives, Our results highlight the necessity of more extensive research into the possible uses of cannabis as a substitute for opioid painkillers, especially in the form of placebo-based, randomized controlled trials and larger sample observational studies… If cannabis can serve as an alternative to prescription opioids for at least some patients, legislators and the medical community may want to consider medical cannabis programs as a potential tool for combating the current opioid epidemic.
A few more studies are listed at the end of this article for those who are interested in getting more details on the opioid epidemic and the use of medical marijuana to combat it.
Also, on this matter, deputy state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, Melissa Moore, says the evidence that marijuana reduces opioid-related deaths and addiction relapses is growing quickly. “Far from being a gateway drug,” she claims, “marijuana is potentially an exit drug for people using opioids.”
Opioids vs. Marijuana
Opioids and marijuana have some things in common and also some major differences. The use of both is rising, and they both help patients suffering from chronic pain. But there are also two big difference between the two. Whereas opioids are highly addictive, marijuana is not so much — some say not at all.
Also, whereas deaths due to opioid overuse and overdose have reached epidemic proportions in the U.S. with more than 50% of Americans being prescribed opiates, there’s no record of anyone, anywhere, ever, dying from using marijuana. In fact, marijuana is saving countless lives every day.
Many of the patients who end up abusing to opioid drugs start off with a legitimate prescription for pain, thinking they won’t let themselves get addicted to it. Research suggests many patients who have access to marijuana to treat their pain tend to avoid the more dangerous and addictive drugs.
Is marijuana’s ability to reduce pain on par with opioids? Researchers at The National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine say there’s good evidence that cannabis is, indeed, effective at treating pain for some conditions.
And judging by the sheer number of patients who claim to be using marijuana on a regular basis with excellent results, they are right.
By some estimates, states with dispensary programs have seen a 3.7 million reduction in the number of daily doses of prescription opioids. Meanwhile, states that allow patients to grow their own marijuana for medical use saw a reduction of 1.8 million fewer pills dispensed per day.
Below are direct quotes from three prominent researcher studies, the results of which indicate that medical marijuana might be a safe and effective alternative to opioids in the treatment of pain and in breaking opioid addictions:
- The clinically and statistically significant evidence of an association between MCP enrollment and opioid prescription cessation and reductions and improved quality of life warrants further investigations on cannabis as a potential alternative to prescription opioids for treating chronic pain. — 2017 Clinical Study
- State implementation of medical marijuana laws was associated with a 5.88% lower rate of opioid prescribing (95% CI, −11.55% to approximately −0.21%). Moreover, the implementation of adult-use marijuana laws, which all occurred in states with existing medical marijuana laws, was associated with a 6.38% lower rate of opioid prescribing (95% CI, −12.20% to approximately −0.56%)… The potential of marijuana liberalization to reduce the use and consequences of prescription opioids among Medicaid enrollees deserves consideration during the policy discussions about marijuana reform and the opioid epidemic. — 2018 Data Review
- Medical cannabis laws are associated with significant reductions in opioid prescribing in the Medicare Part D population. This finding was particularly strong in states that permit dispensaries, and for reductions in hydrocodone and morphine prescriptions. — 2018 Data Review
New York’s Medical Marijuana Program vs. Opioids
Medical marijuana has been legal in New York since 2014 for treating certain serious conditions such as cancer, HIV and AIDS, HIV and AIDS, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, PTSD, and some spinal injuries.
Then in July of 2018, the New York State Assembly Health Committee approved a bill which added opioid addiction to the state’s list of medical conditions which qualify residents for legal access to medical marijuana use. The bill was passed by the assembly and signed by Governor Cuomo.
According to the NY DPH website, patients can be approved to use medical marijuana as a replacement for opioids, provided that, “the precise underlying condition for which an opioid would otherwise be prescribed is stated on the patient’s certification. This allows patients with severe pain that doesn’t meet the definition of chronic pain to use medical marijuana as a replacement for opioids.”
Furthermore, opioid use disorder (opioid addiction) is itself, now an approved medical condition allowing patients to use medical marijuana as a safe and natural alternative to opioids.
How To Get a New York Medical Marijuana Card
If you’re considering using medical marijuana as an alternative to opioids for severe pain, or to help stop using opioids, you’ll need to get a certification from a participating physician, physician’s assistant, or nurse practitioner. If your healthcare provider determines that you are qualified for the program, they will then submit a patient certification form to the state on your behalf.
- NY DPH: Medical Marijuana Program, Information for Patients
- NY DPH: New York State Department of Health Announces Opioid Replacement Now a Qualifying Condition for Medical Marijuana
- NPR: Opioid Use Lower In States That Eased Marijuana Laws
- NPR: After Medical Marijuana Legalized, Medicare Prescriptions Drop For Many Drugs
- Associations between medical cannabis and prescription opioid use in chronic pain patients: A preliminary cohort study