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Marijuana and the Opioid Crisis: Thoughts from the Industry

A hot topic in American news right now is the current opioid crisis, or epidemic, as some are calling it. From Public Health to Federal Government to Veterans and more, everyone is fighting to gain control over the crisis, and save American lives. Right now, it is estimated that 175 Americans die per day due to opioid overdoses, an addiction that for many, started with a prescription pain medication. So, if this typically stems from prescription drugs, why is the marijuana industry being brought into it? One answer is the conflicting stance that the country has on it, both on the Federal and Local government side, as well as the citizen side.

Back in January, the Federal Government rescinded the Obama era Cole Memo, which shook the marijuana industry, albeit only for a few days. In recent public interviews, members of the government stated they believed one cause of the opioid crisis is marijuana, namely that people who consume cannabis then become addicted to opioids. The research as of late has shown that this correlation is not supported by science, as states with legalized cannabis have reported lower rates of opioid deaths than states that have not legalized it. While the notion of marijuana being a gateway drug is not a new one, taking a new stance of associating it with such a harmful health epidemic is hurtful to the industry, and certain groups of cannabis users are fighting to advocate for its opposite: that it is actually a cure for their opioid addiction.

One such user group is American war veterans. Out of all Americans, veterans are “twice as likely to die from an opioid overdose compared to the rest of the population” (Rick Morgan, cnbc.com), meaning they are one of the most affected populations in our country. For many of them, the addiction starts because of true chronic pain from horrific injuries (loss of limbs, seeing comrades die, etc.), or from anti-anxiety medication used to treat PTSD. Some veterans are taking the association of marijuana and the opioid crisis extremely personally because CBD’s (cannabinoids, the non-psychoactive portion of marijuana) have been their only successful way OUT of opioid addictions. One such person is activist Nick Etten, “a former Navy SEAL and the founder and director of the Veterans Cannabis Project” (Rick Morgan, cnbc.com). Etten has long been advocating for the benefits veterans find in the use of CBD products, mainly because they have been found to treat chronic issues (pain, PTSD, etc.), and thereby provide veterans with a safe, sustainable and manageable path away from their prescription addictions and overdose realities. In his words, “We see cannabis not as a gateway drug. We see it as an exit path off opiates” (Etten, via Rick Morgan, cnbc.com).

Besides the personal advocacy and success veterans have seen, many people point to the fact that research has shown there is not a clear link between marijuana use and opioid addiction, meaning they feel associating the two is scientifically false. For starters, and as Etten advocates, the research shows that cannabis is a “safer alternative to pain medicine” (Richard A. Friedman, nytimes.com). Studies have found that states that have legalized marijuana see can see “6.5% or more drop in opioid-related deaths,” and in some cases, individuals “were 17 times more likely to stop using opiates for pain compared with those not using cannabis” (Richard A. Friedman, nytimes.com). The research also points to the fact that most people who become addicted to opioids did not start their drug usage with marijuana. Often it was harder drugs, and/or prescription drugs. The addiction from these drugs runs deep on a physiological level, and biologically they are extremely hard to kick.

All of this is not to say that cannabis has no risks, because it does. Some of the most common ones include the fact that it “can impair cognition, attention and intellectual performance…” (Richard A. Friedman, nytimes.com). So, while people cannot scientifically say or advocate for the fact the marijuana has no side effects or risks, what they do advocate for is that the effects of marijuana can be easily reversed, while those of opioids are much harder to do so. For most, the main issue they have with the attempt to link the use of cannabis as a cause to the opioid crisis is that it is medically and scientifically proven to be the opposite. Many think it is a distraction, and that it is taking away from what the real focus needs to be: how to quickly and efficiently gain control of the opioid crisis in America. In other words: save 63,875 or more Americans from dying of opioid deaths in 2018.

The above blog post is not necessarily a reflection of the views and opinions of QuantumMark LLC, but a compilation and thought piece on the discussions and research in the current marijuana and opioid markets.

Sources:

Jeff Sessions’ opioid-crisis fix: Americans should opt for aspirin, ‘tough it out’ | By Denis Slattery,
New York Daily News

Jeff Sessions makes 2 ridiculous claims about the opioid crisis in less than a minute | AARON RUPAR
Jeff Sessions has a suggestion to tame the opioid crisis: Bufferin and less marijuana | Peter Weber
Military veterans defy Jeff Sessions, fight for medical marijuana to kick opioid addiction | Rick Morgan
Jeff Sessions: marijuana helped cause the opioid epidemic. The research: no. | German Lopez
Marijuana Can Save Lives | RICHARD A. FRIEDMAN

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