Saving Lives with Marijuana

Typically opponents of medical marijuana claim that it is too dangerous, it’s not approved by the FDA and we have other legal drugs that do the same thing. Besides they argue, pot is  addictive, it’s a gateway drug leading to harder drug use, impairs driving and is bad for the lungs, immune system and brain. Of course, these arguments might be better directed toward unbridled use of recreational pot, but these folks seem to think medical marijuana is just a front for that.

They might more profitably reflect on the evidence that sugar is far more dangerous to health—and addicting too. And they seem willing to overlook opioid deaths.

Medical marijuana is saving lives and reducing opioid addiction to an extent and in a way other medicines are not likely to achieve. These benefits are seen in states that permit medical marijuana dispensaries. States that limit availability, such as Michigan, benefit some, but not nearly as much.

Under Michigan’s law, there are no state-licensed dispensaries. There, caregivers assist patients with medical pot. Each patient is allowed one such caregiver, and each caregiver may assist up to five qualifying patients. That seems pretty restrictive. Worse, of course, are the states, about 22 of them, that don’t allow medical pot to be accessed at all.

As to those who do allow it, the Rand Corporation decided to find out if dispensaries make a difference. They sure do. This is the finding of a carefully structured study. Marijuana has been shown, they remind us, to be both an effective pain medication and an alternative to opioids.

As a cause of death, opioid overdose death outranks suicide, gunshots and motor vehicle accidents. Illegal heroin and fentanyl are primary causes of the incidents, but prescription drugs kill too. We lose more than 16,000 lives each year to prescription opioids.  Rand found, these deaths are fewer in states with legalized medical marijuana, but far fewer in states with dispensaries. Dispensary states show a strikingly better record in reducing overdose and death than those that just legalize medical pot but disallow dispensaries–and better addiction stats as well.

The rise in overdose deaths has coincided with the quadrupling of the distribution of opioid pain medications that began in the 1990s and continues. The RAND study found that both legal and illegal use of prescription opioids are involved, though most of it is the illegal variety. Pain patients, as a class, do not tend to abuse opioids.  Addiction specialist Sally Satel, M.D. (psychiatry) states:  “On the whole, patients with chronic pain are more apt to underuse the narcotics that their physician prescribes than to abuse them.”  But, regardless of how the prescription pills are acquired,  we have an opioid overdose epidemic we can reduce with marijuana.

Every state in the nation should legalize medical marijuana dispensaries. As I mentioned in a previous post marijuana can well be used in the treatment of addiction the way methadone and buprenorphine are used. But, thanks to Rand, we know using it also to treat pain instead of opioids is a way to prevent overdose and save lives. This is more commonly done where dispensaries provide quick and easy access.

There is no reason we should not allow qualified adults access to a pot dispensary. The lifesaving and addiction treating potentials for the drug are just too clear.

© All rights reserved to Dave Finch March 3, 2017



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