Marijuana Reduces Opioid Usage, According To University of Georgia Study

The government’s best ally against opioid abuse may be the medicinal marijuana that Jeff Sessions has demonized.

Marijuana reduces opioid usage
Josh Hallett / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The government’s best ally against opioid abuse may be the medicinal marijuana that Jeff Sessions has demonized.

Overdosing on an opioid has become one of the leading avoidable causes of death in the U.S., but recent marijuana research suggests this trend can be reversed. Per the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the number of opioid overdose deaths has skyrocketed from 33,000 per year in 2018 to more than an expected 42,000 in 2018. This has captured the attention of many politicians, including President Donald J. Trump. However, there has been intense debate over how to best deal with the situation at both the state and federal level.

States With Medicinal Marijuana Have Fewer Opioid Issues

David Bradford, Ph.D. and the University of Georgia conducted a study into the effects of marijuana on opioid overdoses. The results paint a clear picture of how the nation could begin to dig itself out of the opioid crisis. In fact, states that offer doctors the ability to prescribe marijuana have 14.4 percent fewer opioid prescriptions, which has an immediate and highly notable impact on reducing overdose deaths.

The Opioid Crisis

University of Georgia Study
  Cindy Shebley / Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Opioid deaths have been on the rise since 2000. CNN reported that half a million people have died of an opioid overdose during this time period. To put this statistic into perspective, opioids have been deadlier for Americans than World War II and the Vietnam War combined.

As Smithsonian Magazine pointed out, this isn’t the nation’s first opioid epidemic, although it’s by far the deadliest to date. Opioid usage was rampant in the U.S. during the 19th century, and this has been blamed primarily on advertising and availability. That crisis eventually passed due to the combination of strong investigative journalism and the resulting launch of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

In the early 1900s, the FDA passed stringent rules regarding pharmaceutical advertisements. This all changed in 1997 when the FDA relaxed the rules to allow direct-to-consumer ads again. A mere three years later, the nation had entered its second opioid epidemic.

Trump Administration Proposes Executing Drug Dealers

Jeff Sessions has publicly derided all forms of marijuana, even going so far as to suggest that people using cannabis in a state that has legalized the drug should still be prosecuted at a federal level. President Trump took this blather a step further by calling for the death penalty for some drug dealers.

It’s currently not legal in most cases to impose the death penalty on someone who hasn’t committed murder. President Trump’s justification for his suggestion is that drug dealers “kill thousands of people” through overdoses. It remains to be seen if the Supreme Court would take the same viewpoint.

Will Recent Research Change Trump’s Mind?

If the federal government is truly invested in reducing the number of opioid-related fatalities, it’s going to be necessary to look at methods other than incarceration and the death penalty. Multiple studies have pointed out that the death penalty doesn’t serve as a deterrent to criminals, but giving doctors and their patients more treatment options may achieve the desired results. More than 14 percent of today’s patients using opioids could be prescribed medical marijuana instead, and this would drop their fatality risk to zero.