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Study: Is cannabis the key to tackling the opioid crisis?



The study was able to reduce opioid use by 78 percent among its participants

A study on the impacts of cannabis on prescription opioid use has shown a ‘significant’ reduction in opiate dosage and usage in patients who substituted the prescription drug for cannabis.

While the world battles the COVID-19 pandemic, The US and Canada have continued to fight an epidemic of their own; the ‘Opioid Crisis’.

Declared a public health emergency in 2017 by the US Department of Health and Human Services, an estimated 10.3 million people misused prescription opioids in 2018.

At the beginning of the study, 28 percent of participants reported that they used opioids, however, after six months, this figure dropped to just 11 percent.

The study also revealed that mean opioid usage reduced by a staggering 78 percent, with similar reductions in usage of other types of prescription drugs. Average daily opioid use sat at 152 mg morphine milligram equivalent (MME) at baseline, but after six months, this figure had reduced to 32.2 mg MME.

Conservative MP and member of Conservative Drug Policy Reform Group (CDPRG), Crispin Blunt, told Cannabis Health: “Evidence is very strong on the benefits of substituting opiates for cannabis-based medicines. A 78 percent reduction in opiates within six months is extraordinary.

Crispin Blunt, MP

“Increasing numbers of people worldwide are experiencing the potential benefits of cannabis-based treatment as an opiate alternative that are evidenced so profoundly in this study.”

“As clinicians continue to demonstrate cannabis’ medicinal potential in empirical frameworks, the case for changing public policy to enable widespread medical access to it becomes overwhelming.”

The CDPRG was launched in 2019 by a group of former conservative MPs in an effort to promote debates surrounding drug policy.

“For the CDPRG, 2021 will be an important year of work in developing the understanding of the evidence in the wider public policy environment, particularly parliament and senior government officials and ministers,” Blunt said.

“On medical grounds alone, obvious changes to policy need to be delivered around cannabis. It’s our mission to bring this evidence to bear effectively.”

The opioid crisis is thought to date back to the late 1990s when pharmaceutical companies claimed patients would not become addicted to opioid pain relief medications.

Prescription rates soared and, in turn, an increasing number of Americans became addicted to pain killers such as OxyContin. According to the U.S. National Centre for Health Statistics, the death rate from drug overdose more than tripled between 1999 and 2016.

Published last week in the journal of the American Academy of Pain Medicine, the ‘Tilray Observational Patient Study’ analysed 1,145 medical cannabis patients over a six-month period. Patients were monitored from 21 medical clinics across Canada, which is second to America in its opioid consumption.

The scientists behind the study say that the observed reductions in opioid use suggests that cannabis has the potential to play a “harm reduction role” in the opioid crisis. According to Nature, the opioid epidemic has caused more deaths in the US in 2017 than HIV/AIDS-related illnesses at the peak of the AIDS crisis in the mid-1980s.

In addition to analysing opioid use, the study looked at the impact of cannabis on quality of life. Using the World Health Organisation Quality of Life Short Form, researchers claimed that “statistically significant” improvements were reported across all four domains of the WHO scoring process; physical, psychological, social relationships and environment.

Blunt said: “It’s very clear that there is a serious gap to be bridged here with the scientific research community and their verified findings on the safety, efficacy and cost-effectiveness of what should be revolutionary medicinal products.”


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