In Unexpected Twist Legalized Marijuana Could Help Curb the Opioid Epidemic, Study Finds

With the opioid epidemic reaching alarming levels, there may be a glimmer of hope on the horizon in an unexpected place. And that might have to do with the legalized use of medical marijuana in the United States. With more and more states legalizing the use of medical marijuana hospitals expected to see an influx pot smokers, but in an unexpected twist, they are treating far less opioid users, a new study shows. Hospitalization rates for opioid painkiller dependence and opioid abuse have dropped on average 23 percent in states after medical marijuana was permitted, the analysis has found. And hospitalization rates for opioid overdoses has dropped 13 percent on average. At the same time, fears that the legalization of medical marijuana would lead to an increase in cannabis-related hospitalizations proved to be unfounded, this according to the report in Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

The opioid crisis which is also known as the opioid epidemic refers to the rapid increase in the use of prescription and non-prescription opioids in both the United States and Canada. Prescription opioids include Percocet, Oxycodone, Vicodin, OxyContin and fentanyl. According to the Drug Enforcement Agency overdose deaths, especially those from prescription drugs and heroin, have reached epidemic and alarming levels. Medical cannabis also called medical marijuana is cannabis and cannabinoids that are prescribed by doctors for their patients. The use of medical cannabis has not been thoroughly tested due to production restrictions and governmental regulations. There is a limited amount of evidence suggesting that cannabis can help to reduce nausea and vomiting during chemotherapy, help to improve appetite in people with HIV/AIDS and help to reduce chronic pain and muscle spasms.

It was thought that there would be more hospitalizations for pot smokers, but instead, it looks like medical marijuana laws may have helped to reduce hospitalizations related to opioid pain relievers. This study and a few other studies provided some evidence with regards to the potential positive benefits of legalizing marijuana to reduce opioid use and abuse. The study is still preliminary but suggests that access to medical cannabis might help to reduce opioid misuse.

It is becoming very clear that battling the opioid crisis is going to require a multi-pronged approach and along with a great deal of creativity. And people are now wondering if increased liberalization of medical marijuana could be part of the solution.

Previous studies have reported associations between medical marijuana and reductions in opioid prescriptions, along with opioid-related vehicle accidents and opioid overdose deaths.In study done in 2014, Dr. Marcus Bachhuber found that deaths from opioid overdoses fell by about 25 percent in states that had legalized medical marijuana. Since last year, when New York brought out its medical marijuana program, Bachhuber has included medical cannabis in a menu of options he offered his patients who suffer from chronic or severe pain from neuropathy and HIV/AIDS. Bachhuber who is a professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, was not involved in the new study. Many of his patients ask for help to quit highly addictive opioids, and some have used medical marijuana to taper off the prescription painkillers. Doctors can only recommend, and not prescribe, medical marijuana, and physicians who work for the federal government cannot even discuss the weed. Federal prohibition of marijuana also has led to severe limitations on research of marijuana. This is just one of the stories trending on the NBC News site. Other stories you will find include news, tech, health, celebrity rumors, today's top celebrity news, pop culture, sports, weather and so much more. **

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