Over the last few years a shocking shift has occured. The amount of people dying from heroin and prescription opiates has surpassed the number dying in automobile accidents, and according to the Center for Disease Control, at least half of all opiate deaths include a prescription. Those fighting to curb addiction and overdoses should welcome the new studies proving that states with medical marijuana laws show a significant decrease in painkiller and other prescriptions. While opiates are dangerously addictive, habit forming, and legal - a prescription in combination with medical marijuana has the potential to effectively treat pain in lower doses with much less chance of addiction. The DEA has recently omitted a chance to reschedule cannabis, allowing doctors to prescribe the drug like any other and remove the federal threat on state-legal marijuana businesses, but in the same gesture they allowed for extended research into the drug. After more studies are able to prove the benefits of marijuana, policy will have no choice but to follow science and reason.
The United States is in the grips of a well-documented opiate epidemic. More people in the country now die from heroin and prescription opiates than they do from car accidents. In 2014, nearly 19,000 fatal overdoses were related to legal opiates like OxyContin and Vicodin, and according to the Center for Disease Control, at least half of all opiate deaths involve a prescription. Sales of OxyContin, which was initially marketed as non-addictive, alone generate roughly $3 billion each year.
While the complete eradication of opiates is unlikely, treating pain with both substances in tandem is a promising area of exploration. “By using a combination of the opioids and the cannabinoids, one can really lower the doses of both quite substantially,” Piomelli says. “By lowering the doses, you of course decrease the risk of addiction and the risk of side effects from both classes of compounds.” He stresses that more research is needed to assess the possible risks of taking both substances at once.
“The major cause of the delay we have is decades of misunderstanding, misconception and misinformation on cannabis that only now, after 20 years of work on the endocannabinoid system, we are finally starting to dispel,” Piomelli says