Marijuana legalization may have another supporter. Senator Elizabeth Warren is urging the Centers for the Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to consider legal cannabis as an alternative to opioid painkillers.
As reported by the Washington Post, the Massachusetts lawmaker wrote a letter to Tom Friedan, the head of the CDC, requesting the agency to examine how both recreational and medical marijuana legalization would affect the number of opioid overdose deaths.
“Our country is faced with an opioid epidemic that only continues to grow at an alarming pace. Opioid abuse is a national concern and warrants swift an immediate action.”
Several studies have been done over the years measuring the painkilling effects of cannabis. While much of the research is still new, some have concluded that marijuana is a viable alternative to opioids and could potentially cut down on the number of drug overdoses.
In a recent review, researchers analyzed data from 79 studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and found substantial evidence that marijuana is an effective pain reliever. The research, which included the medical records of almost 6,500 patients, revealed cannabinoid provided a 30 percent greater improvement in pain when compared to a placebo.
Medical marijuana was shown to successfully relief chronic pain and muscle stiffness in many multiple sclerosis patients. Although somewhat inconclusive, other evidence suggested that weed reduced the amount of nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy and stopped some symptoms of Tourette syndrome.
While some adverse symptoms like coughing, dry mouth, and dizziness were noticed, most of the weed users reported little or no side effects. The researchers did not find any evidence that marijuana caused any measurable addiction or any overdoses.
On the other hand, opioids carry a significant risk of overdose, especially as a patient’s system builds up a tolerance for the painkilling effects. Some researchers have pointed out that prescription opioids can lead to the use of another opioid that is cheaper and more potent, heroin.
Last month, the CDC released a report that showed the number of lethal overdoses on opioids had increased more than twofold between 2000 and 2014. The surge in overdoses included both men and women of all ages and ethnic groups.
The Institute of Medicine released a report in 2011 that revealed approximately 100 million U.S. residents experience some form of chronic pain and even more from acute pain. The majority of these cases are never treated.
During the 1990s and 2000s, doctors began sending patients home with opioid prescriptions in progressively record numbers. Health authorities have since blamed this practice for the opioid overdose epidemic.
Yet, the doctors may not be completely to blame. It was a common belief in the medical community that opioids were both effective and had a lower risk of addiction than any other traditionally prescribed medication.
Nonetheless, the research on how effective marijuana is as a painkiller is still controversial and incomplete. Large-scale clinical trials still need to be performed before medical cannabis can even get close to being approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
As these trials are yet to be complete, most politicians shy away from the idea of marijuana legalization at the federal level. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said, “I don’t think we’ve done enough research yet.”
This hasn’t stopped Elizabeth Warren or other lawmakers from being added to the growing list of advocates for changes in marijuana legislation. Last year, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders introduced a bill that would essentially end federal laws prohibiting weed.
As marijuana is on the U.S. government’s list of illegal substances, the proposed legislation would remove that status, allowing individual states to decide how to regulate the drug.
In 2014, researchers looked at the number of opioid overdose deaths in states with legal cannabis versus states without. The study showed a 24.8 percent reduction in deaths from overdoses in states that had marijuana-friendly laws.
According to federal health officials, 47,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2014. Nearly two out of three of these deaths were opioid-related. As reported previously by the Inquisitr, President Obama asked Congress earlier this month for approval to spend $1 billion on a drug treatment program specifically focused on people addicted to opioids.
While not all deaths from overdose will be stopped by marijuana legalization, Elizabeth Warren seems to think studying the possibility will help. With opioid overuse considered by many an epidemic, the CDC may now consider an active role in developing this new research in the future.
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