Debunking Sean Spicer’s Claim that Marijuana Contributes to the Opioid Crisis
In a recent press conference, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer – intentionally or otherwise – linked recreational marijuana to the ongoing opioid crisis, stating “There's a big difference between that [medical marijuana] and recreational marijuana. I think that when you see the opioid addiction crisis blossoming in so many states around this country, the last thing we should be doing is encouraging people.” At first glance, many individuals might think that Spicer has a fair point. Marijuana is known for its pain-relieving properties, after all, and people have been asserting for decades that marijuana is a gateway drug. But, a look at the evidence tells a different story. In fact, studies suggest marijuana may actually be one of our most powerful tools in fighting the opioid crisis.
Understanding the Opioid Crisis
Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S., according to a report by the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM). Of the more than 52,000 lethal drug overdoses recorded in 2015, roughly 20,000 were related to prescription pain relievers. Another 13,000 overdose deaths were attributed to heroin, an illicit opioid. Nearly two-thirds of all lethal drug overdoses are caused by licit and illicit opiates, and the number of overdose deaths involving opioids has quadrupled since 1999. Clearly, the current administration is right to express concern about prescription pain reliever abuse. But, is linking marijuana to increased opiate use accurate?
Marijuana Hasn’t Been Proven to Be a Gateway Drug
A recent 20-year study showed that there is a correlation between marijuana use and the use of illicit drugs. But, and this is an extremely important distinction, there is a difference between correlation and causation. Spicer’s statement was misleading because there is no evidence that marijuana causes individuals to try opiates or other drugs. Rather, many scientists assert that the factors linked to cannabis use – low self-esteem, peer pressure, stress, etc. – are the same that contribute to the use of alcohol and other drugs.
Many would argue – and rightfully so – that an inability to prove a link doesn’t mean the link isn’t there. So, how can we better understand marijuana’s impact on opioid use and abuse when even a 20-year study can’t provide conclusive results?
Legal Marijuana States Saw Fewer Lethal Opioid Overdoses and Lower Medical Costs
States with legal cannabis saw 25 percent fewer lethal prescription drug overdoses than states where cannabis remained illegal, according to a study out of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Similarly, opioid abuse costs the U.S. an estimated $72 billion in annual medical costs, but states with legal weed save about $165 million each year. The reason for the decreased overdoses and medical costs is nuanced, but it comes down to understanding how marijuana can be used as a supplement or replacement for prescription opiates, and why people use pain relievers.
Scientific Studies Support Marijuana as a Supplement or Replacement for Prescription Opiates
States with medical marijuana give individuals alternatives to opioids for chronic pain relief, but that isn’t the only benefit. A study published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs in 2012 looked at marijuana use both as a supplement and an alternative to prescription opiates in treating chronic pain, and “findings suggest that increasing safe access to medical cannabis may reduce the personal and social harms associated with addiction, particularly in relation to the growing problematic use of pharmaceutical opiates.”
According to the study, cannabinoids lead to greater pain relief and – as a result – lower use of opiates. Additionally, and perhaps more significantly, cannabinoids appear to prevent the development of tolerance to or withdrawal from opiates, giving many addicts an easier path to recovery.
Another Reason to Love Weed
The evidence seems to indicate that marijuana is helping address the opioid crisis, not causing it. As if you needed another reason to love cannabis.
Karing Kind is Boulder’s first recreational marijuana dispensary, and we’re proud to be a part of one of the fastest growing industries in the world. We strive to provide a top-tier experience every time you enter our store. Our wide selection of organic bud, chemical-free concentrates, and edibles, along with our award-winning budtenders, makes us the perfect Colorado cannabis destination.
Karing Kind is located just off of US-36, one mile north of Broadway, open daily from 10am to 10pm.
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