There is an ongoing debate here in the United States whether marijuana can help in the fight against the opioid epidemic. As of now, opioid epidemic statistics are showing that 116 lives are taken everyday from overdoses. Marijuana opponents argue that cannabis is a contributing factor as a gateway drug, while proponents will cite statistics out of Colorado that has offered recreational marijuana since 2014 where the rate of opioid overdose deaths are on the decline.
Since marijuana is federally illegal in the United States research of any sort on cannabis is not conducted in the rigorous fashion associated with true science, so we are often forced to look at research overseas. Israel has become a real leader in cannabis research and has legalized medical marijuana. Profound minds like Professor Raphael Mechoulam, the man that discovered THC, came from Israeli medical research. A new study conducted with cancer patients, which studies have shown one in ten cancer patients develop a dependency on the opioid prescription drugs they are given, is providing evidence of exactly how cannabis can help stave off opioid dependency.
In a new study published in the European Journal of Internal Medicine, researchers from Tikun Olam, the largest medical marijuana provider in Israel, investigated the efficacy of cannabis for cancer patients. What they found was that, at least for cancer patients, marijuana could help stop opioid dependency before it starts. “Cannabis is a very good alternative to reduce opioid consumption, to increase quality of life, and to reduce pain, nausea and vomiting,” says Lihi Bar-Lev Schleider, lead researcher on the study. The study found cannabis to be most effective in reducing patients’ use of opioid painkillers within six months of initial intake. While this wasn’t a clinical study, the research looks at an expansive collection of anecdotal evidence from Tikun Olam patients, proving the efficacy of cannabis.
At intake, more than 1,000 of the patients regularly took nearly 4,000 medications altogether. Opioids were the most widely used drug – the “cornerstone medication for the treatment of cancer pain,” as the researchers wrote – consumed by about a third of patients at intake. By the end of the study, 36 percent of those patients stopped taking opioids and about 10 percent reduced the dose.
The Tikun Olam study isn’t unique in parading the benefits of cannabis for cancer, or for the treatment of pain. What is unique about it, however, is that the patients who responded to the questionnaire weren’t self-selecting, but rather required to as part of Tikun Olam’s program, Schleider explains. “Cannabis surveys usually rely on answers from willing patients, only patients who want to answer the questionnaire because they experienced improvement in their conditions,” she says. Tikun Olam’s study looks at everybody, including the patients who passed away or who quit the cannabis program — it didn’t only rely on happy patients.
As long as marijuana remains a Schedule 1 drug here in the U.S., little research on cannabis will be conducted well enough to give it much merit. Cannabis opponents will always be able to turn to the argument that marijuana has not been proven to have any medical benefit. Do you feel like there is enough scientific evidence to merit the rescheduling of marijuana? Do you believe that marijuana can help fight the opioid epidemic?