Legal Weed Promised to End the Opioid Crisis. It Didn’t.

Our study provides further evidence that marijuana use is not effective in reducing nonmedical opioid use. ” ~ Dr. Mark Olfson, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry and Epidemiology, Columbia University

When marijuana became legalized in more states across the country, proponents hoped that increased availability would lead to a significant reduction in opioid overdose deaths.

That has not happened.

In fact, more Americans fatally overdosed in 2020 than ever before – more than 93,000. That equates to a concerning 29% jump from the previous record of around 72,000, which was just set in 2017.

Opioids are still the driving force behind the overdose epidemic, especially powerful synthetics like fentanyl. According to Regina LaBelle, the Acting Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, “Synthetic opioids other than methadone, a category that includes illicitly-manufactured fentanyl and its analogues, were specifically involved in 62% of these overdose deaths.

That is not even taking into account other opioids like prescription painkillers or heroin.

Why Did People Think Legal Marijuana Would Reduce Opioid Deaths?

Some supporters thought that legal, easy-to-obtain marijuana would offer an opioid-free alternative method of treating chronic pain. Fewer people using prescription painkillers like OxyContin or Percocet would obviously mean a reduction in rates of abuse, dependence, addiction, and overdose.

Or so the line of reasoning went. The reality is something else altogether.

For example, while it is true that opioid-related emergency rooms visits do go down in areas where recreational marijuana use was recently legalized, a just-published study found that this effect goes away after six months. After a brief respite, opioid injuries go right back up.

The researchers pointedly conclude that cannabis is not a “panacea” that will curb the opioid epidemic.

Others thought that people who were struggling with Opioid Use Disorder could use marijuana to curb cravings and better manage their addiction.

Again, the rising death toll dashes that hope.

Dr. Coleman Drake, PhD, Assistant Professor of Health Policy and Management at the University of Pittsburgh and lead author of the study, says, “Maybe for those who already have Opioid Use Disorder, they’re finding that cannabis is not sufficient to treat all the symptoms of their condition…There might be a substitution back towards (heroin, fentanyl, or other opioids) after a period of time.

The REAL Effect Marijuana Has on Opioid Recovery

Dr. Drake’s explanation echoes findings from another study published earlier this year in Emerging Trends in Drugs, Addictions, and Health. The study found that adolescents and young adults with OUD who smoked marijuana as a substitute for their opioid of choice were not successful in their recovery.

In fact, they were more likely to relapse, because marijuana actually made their opioid cravings worse. Here are some direct quotes from participants:

  • Smoking weed was like a little tickle, and started the cravings for heroin in motion.”
  • Weed was just not enough, and it accelerated my need for a heroin high.
  • Each time I relapsed on weed, I would immediately think heroin is so much better.
  • If I’m already getting high, I might as well get REALLY high, because opiates are better.

Finally, yet another study that was published in Addiction last year concluded that using marijuana promotes – rather than replaces – opioid use.

Researchers followed a group of participants who used illegal or non-medical opioids for 90 days. They discovered that on the days when participants smoked pot, the likelihood of them also using opioids non-medically nearly doubled, even if they were not experiencing pain.

Dr. Kevin Sabet, former senior drug policy advisor to the Obama administration and current President of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, says that this type of research “undercuts the argument that marijuana can be a form of substitute for those suffering from opioid addiction.”

We must not allow industry rhetoric to supersede the preponderance of data we have showing marijuana can potentially exacerbate the addiction crisis our country is suffering.

What Does All of This Mean to YOU?

If you are suffering from chronic pain or trying to overcome an addiction to opioids, you may have been led to believe that marijuana is a ‘safe’ solution.

But nothing can be further from the truth.

One of the biggest dangers of cannabis is how it may trigger the use of other, harder drugs. For someone who is trying to quit using heroin, prescription painkillers, or synthetic opioids, smoking weed can lead directly to a full-blown relapse.

Recovery from opioid addiction is hard enough on its own. Marijuana makes it even harder.

To get the help you need, contact Lasting Recovery TODAY. We are the top outpatient rehab program in San Diego, and we can help you safely and successfully regain your total sobriety from ALL drugs. You CAN get
your life back.

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