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CROSSROADS: Gateway to Good

Aug 08, 2018 05:03PM ● By Ricardo Baca
There it is again: Another high-level study telling the world there is a legitimate geographic connection between legal marijuana laws and lower opioid use rates.

And before anyone questions the validity of this July 2018 study, know that it was conducted by researchers from the University of California San Diego and the Weill Cornell Medical College, the latter of which is the medical school at Ivy League institution Cornell University.

Ivy League’s pretty legit. And so is the University of Georgia, where researchers recently found that there are “substantial reductions in opiate use” in states that have implemented medical marijuana laws—findings they reported in JAMA Internal Medicine, a medical journal that is published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, which is also pretty legit.

There are even more studies pointing to the same conclusion—including studies authored by researchers from the University of Kentucky College of Public Health, Emory University, and other respected academic institutions.
But how many encouraging studies published in the world’s most respected peer-reviewed medical journals do there need to be before the US federal government starts seriously discussing cannabis as a viable and effective alternative to the opioids that are ravaging everyday Americans daily?

That cannabis is in fact an effective exit drug from the more dangerous-and-deadly opioids that are killing more than 115 Americans every day (according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse) shouldn’t surprise anybody who has been paying attention.

The National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine told us in 2017 there is “conclusive or substantial evidence” that cannabis is effective at treating pain. A few years earlier a systematic review and meta-analysis published in the esteemed Journal of the American Medical Association (remember them?) told us there was “moderate-quality evidence to support the use of cannabinoids for the treatment of chronic pain.”

So the positioning of cannabis as an effective treatment for pain goes beyond your Uncle Al’s vouching for it.

And yet President Donald Trump, who has called the opioid epidemic “the worst drug crisis in American history,” stopped short of declaring a national emergency, as his opioid commission had recommended—instead opting to call it a public health emergency.

Dr. Andrew Kolodny, co-director of the Opioid Policy Research Collaborative at Brandeis University, told USA Today that Trump was right in calling the epidemic an emergency—but Kolodny found the president’s lack of action surprising.

“If you call something an emergency,” he said, “urgent action should immediately follow.”
You’d think, right? And yet all we’ve seen is inaction, which is unfortunately what we’ve come to expect from Trump and his administration of inept yes-men.

But just think about the common sense here, and how we’re completely ignoring a life-saving solution amid a tragic epidemic that is killing 3,500 Americans every month.

Americans are in tremendous pain—and not just of the divisive, existential variety often associated with the man residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. More than 10 percent of Americans experience a lot of pain, and more than 55 percent reported some type of pain in the three months leading up to a recent survey funded by the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) and published in The Journal of Pain.

While severely addictive and deadly opioids are commonly prescribed for this pain, top-level research tells us that cannabis—a non-deadly, less-addictive substance—can effectively treat many of these types of pain. And yet do you see the federal government mentioning marijuana as a potential alternative to this tragic state we’re in, a.k.a. “the worst drug crisis in American history”? Nope.

At least some states are starting to catch on. In mid-July,“ New York State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker filed emergency regulations adding any condition for which an opioid could be prescribed as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana,” reported Leafly, a leading cannabis news site.

As Zucker’s office wrote: “Effective immediately, registered practitioners may certify patients to use medical marijuana as a replacement for opioids, provided that the precise underlying condition for which an opioid would otherwise be prescribed is stated on the patient’s certification. This allows patients with severe pain that doesn’t meet the definition of chronic pain to use medical marijuana as a replacement for opioids.”

Kudos to New York, and more importantly, bravo to Zucker! If prescribing physicians in the Empire State adapt to these emergency regulations, his common-sense motion will save untold lives.

And meanwhile the federal government twiddles its thumbs as more than 100 families from San Diego to Bangor say goodbye forever to their loved ones with each passing sunset.
RICARDO BACA is a veteran journalist, thought leader, and founder of The Cannabist. His content agency Grasslands works primarily with businesses and individuals in the cannabis and hemp industries on thought leadership, publicity, and marketing projects via thoughtful, personalized content campaigns.