How Legalized Marijuana is Changing The Healthcare Industry

by Trevor McDonald

Medical marijuana continues to be a hot-button issue, and we can expect that to continue until it’s legalized in all 50 states. But as the debate heats up and more states approve medical marijuana, we can look to the early adopters to find out what’s working.

Here are a few ways legalized marijuana is changing the healthcare industry.

Fewer opioid overdose deaths

In states that have legalized marijuana, we’re seeing fewer deaths from opioid overdose. In fact, a 2014 Journal of the American Medical Association study found that states with medical marijuana programs have a 25 percent lower opioid-related death rate than states that haven’t approved marijuana for medical use.

America’s addiction epidemic is currently claiming an average of 115 lives every day, so this is clearly an issue that is rocking the healthcare in addition to thousands of families. If we can reduce those overdose deaths by 25 percent, that would equate to nearly 29 fewer overdose deaths – every day.

Marijuana is showing promise for chronic pain

Harvard researchers completed a systematic review of the available research and found that almost all patients who took marijuana for chronic pain saw some improvement.

This is likely why we’re seeing fewer opioid prescriptions in states that have legalized marijuana.

For those who understand how both of these medications work, this news should come as no surprise. Opioids and marijuana both work as analgesics, so they block pain signals within the nervous system. THC binds to CB1 and CB2 receptors to block pain signals while opioids bind to opioid receptors.

A Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research study suggests that patients even prefer cannabis over opioids. Researchers found that 81 percent of patients who used opioids believe that adding medical marijuana is more effective than opioids alone.

Fewer prescriptions for anxiety and depression

In states that have legalized medical marijuana, doctors seem to prescribe fewer doses of anxiety and depression medications. A 2016 a Health Affairs study found that Medicare prescriptions for drugs used to treat these conditions dropped. Interestingly, researchers only found a dip in prescriptions for conditions that marijuana can effectively treat. They did not see the same drop in other prescriptions.

It’s important to note that marijuana can exacerbate some mental health conditions, and it can even make anxiety worse for some people. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) has also been associated with psychosis in some cases.

Medical marijuana has emerged as an alternative to many prescription medications with dangerous side effects. Because of this, the benefits of using marijuana in these areas far outweighs any risks.

Still, we must remember that medically-approved marijuana is in its infancy. At best, we have about two decades of history to draw from. As more states legalize cannabis, we’ll have a better picture of its full impact on the healthcare system.


Author Bio: Trevor is a freelance content writer and a recovering addict & alcoholic who’s been clean and sober for over 5 years. Since his recovery began, he has enjoyed using his talent for words to help spread treatment resources, addiction awareness, and general health knowledge. In his free time, you can find him working with recovering addicts or outside enjoying about any type of fitness activity imaginable.

Fighting Addiction With CBD

By Autumn R. Broughton

The cause of drug addiction varies significantly from person to person, making addiction very difficult to treat, and therefore difficult to overcome. Every socio-economic background, geographic region, educational level, ethnicity, and race suffers from addiction, and it can stem from emotional issues, mental disease, environmental circumstances, and physical illness. Addiction stemming from physical illness is known as dependency, and is a result of long-term use of addictive medications that alter the chemistry in the brain. When use of the medication is stopped suddenly, the brain is then lacking what it once was so accustomed to having, as is the body; the physical response to this is physical illness and psychological disturbances until the body and brain are able to return to their natural functioning state. Using addictive substances for an extended period, regardless of the reasoning behind it, results in the same withdraw experience. Once this cycle starts, it continues for many people, sometimes even branching in the younger generation that is exposed to it.

As there are so many causes of drug addiction, it’s no surprise that an estimated 30 million people in the United States and Europe suffer from addiction and drug abuse, with 22 million being alcoholics, 6 million cocaine addicts, and nearly 2 million heroin abusers. Substance abuse also negatively impacts society as a whole; it is responsible for drug-related illness, death, violence, and crime that cost the United States alone approximately $66.9 billion every year. With such a large number of people suffering from this issue, and so many causes for its development, science has struggled to find an alternative method of treatment that can be applied to a large and differing range of people, as well as one that is non-addictive itself. CBD, also called cannabidiol, may be the answer they have been hoping for.

30 million people in the United States and Europe suffer from addiction and drug abuse, with 22 million being alcoholics, 6 million cocaine addicts, and nearly 2 million heroin abusers.

30 million people in the United States and Europe suffer from addiction and drug abuse, with 22 million being alcoholics, 6 million cocaine addicts, and nearly 2 million heroin abusers.

Can CBD Stop Addiction?

It may seem counterintuitive to treat substance abuse and addiction using a compound found in the cannabis plant, as cannabis is notoriously known for its psychological “high”. The difference lies in the different compounds of the plant and how they react with our endocannabinoid system. THC is the compound that is responsible for producing psychological effects, while CBD has no such effect whatsoever. Scientists believe this is because CBD interacts with our cannabinoid receptors, while by contrast, THC binds directly to the receptors instead. THC is typically non-habit-forming and non-addictive, but with that said, just about anything can be addictive, including food, so some argue that addiction to THC is possible. With its potential to block the cravings of different substances that are experienced with addiction, CBD can be used not only to treat relapse of use of things like heroin or prescription opiates, but it can eliminate any potential cravings for use of its sister compound THC.

CBD does not alter the initial effects of drugs (the euphoria or “high” is still experienced), but instead, it is used to reduce the cravings of drugs during and after substance abuse treatment. By accomplishing this, those that suffer from addiction are able to not only achieve sobriety but maintain their recovery as well. A double blind placebo study was able to demonstrate this effect of cannabidiol; heroin addicts were given a single concentrated dose of CBD over a three day period. They were then exposed to visual stimuli known to induce cravings, as well as visuals that were neutral. This exposure was introduced to participants at one hour, twenty-four hours, and one week after the CBD treatment. Compared to those on the placebo, the participants that received CBD reported that their cravings had been reduced; this effect lasted for a full seven day period.

Combating Existing Mental Disorders

As previously mentioned, substance abuse and addiction can result from a number of things. Many people suffering from mental issues and illnesses like bipolar and anxiety disorders are often compelled to self-medicate using different addictive substances. This is because these individuals are suffering from mental chemical imbalances and deficiencies, and the application of different drugs offer some relief, albeit temporary. The sufferer will continue to chase and use any drug or substance in an effort to alleviate the mental discomfort brought on by their existing illness. Unfortunately, this only complicates matters, as these drugs don’t really treat their mental disorder, but still drag them into an endless cycle of use, abuse, and addiction.

CBD has been found to be a beneficial, effective alternative treatment for a variety of mental health issues, from obsessive compulsive disorder and other anxiety-based illnesses to depression and even schizophrenia. By providing people with a safe, affordable, effective, and readily available treatment option for mental health disorders, we can prevent a large number of people from attempting to self-medicate, thereby preventing their substance addiction and reducing the number of people suffering from drug addiction. This would not only save lives, but it would also positively impact our economy (by reducing the amount of money spent each year by the government for treating and retreating addiction sufferers), lessen the amount of homelessness experienced, reduce drug-related crime and violence, and improving our society overall.

One for All

CBD is well tolerated across many different people, with all kinds of different health profiles. There are few to no reported side effects, and it does not produce any psychoactive effects or stimulate the reward center of the brain, which makes it safe to use, especially among those that suffer from substance addiction. It can effectively treat a variety of mental disorders, and is an appealing choice for many people, as it does not require a prescription to buy or use it. While addiction itself needs to be treated with a combination of approaches with an emphasis on therapy to address psychological issues that may contribute to addiction, the addition of CBD to other existing conventional treatment routines has the potential to help many people overcome their struggle with substance use once and for all. (If you’re interested in learning more, make sure to check out this in-depth article on CBD cannabis oil.)

Study: Majority Of Chronic Pain Patients Replace Opioids With Cannabis

OHIO: More than two-thirds of chronic pain patients registered to legally access medical cannabis products substitute marijuana for prescription opioids, according to data published in The Journal of Headache and Pain.

Investigators from the United States and Canada assessed the use of medical cannabis and prescription drugs in a cohort of over 2,000 Canadian patients licensed to access marijuana products. Among those patients with a primary diagnosis of chronic pain, 73 percent reported substituting cannabis in place of opioids. Among those patients diagnosed specifically with headache/migraine, cannabis was frequently reported as a substitute for other medications – including opiates (43 percent), anti-depressants (39 percent), NSAIDS (21 percent), triptans (8 percent), and anti-convulsants (8 percent).

“Most patients in the pain groups reported replacing prescription medications with medicinal cannabis, the most common of which were opiates/opioids across all patient groups,” authors concluded. “This is notable given the well-described ‘opioid-sparing effect’ of cannabinoids and growing abundance of literature suggesting that cannabis may help in weaning from these medications and perhaps providing a means of combating the opioid epidemic.”

For more information, contact Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director, at: Full text of the study, “Patterns of medicinal cannabis use, strain analysis, and substitution effect among patients with migraine, headache, arthritis, and chronic pain in a medicinal cannabis cohort,” appears in The Journal of Headache and Pain. NORML’s fact-sheet highlighting the relevant, peer-reviewed research specific to the relationship between cannabis and opioids is available online.

85% Of U.S. Doctors Suspect Their Patients Abuse Opioids

Survey shows 77% list medical marijuana as least preferred alternative

MASSACHUSETTS:  The opioid epidemic causes more than 100 overdoses daily in America and fewer than 1 in 5 treating physicians approve of the government’s handling of the crisis. These findings are from a new survey of 501 physicians conducted by InCrowd and McLean Hospital.

“The doctors we surveyed showed incredible passion for this topic—they had significant insight into fixing it,” says Danielle Schroth, InCrowd’s Director of Crowd Development. “They’re frustrated that they can’t do enough for their patients’ wellbeing.”

“Part of what got us into this current crisis was physician behavior, well-meaning physician behaviors,” says Rocco Iannucci, MD, of McLean Hospital’s Division of Alcohol and Drug Treatment. “The survey uncovered physicians’ pressures towards treating pain and addiction.”

The survey fielded by InCrowd, pioneer of real-time life science market intelligence, and McLean Hospital’s Division of Alcohol and Drug Treatment Programming, also found:

  • Nearly half (47%) disapprove of the federal government’s response
  • Forty-four percent called for stricter regulations to curb opioid abuse, while 18% wanted to discontinue opioid prescriptions all together
  • Ten percent wanted to end patient satisfaction surveys, which put pressure on physicians for positive patient ratings
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) are the most preferred treatment alternative (68%), followed by lifestyle changes.

“There is limited education historically on treatment of pain,” says Dr. Iannucci. “So, doctors may only be familiar with a few things—perhaps Tylenol, ibuprofen, and then they move to opioids. More systematic education of medical students and residents in all specialties, and not just in pain specialization, is really important.”

Study: Inhaled Cannabis Augments Analgesic Efficacy Of Opiates

NEW YORK: The co-administration of inhaled cannabis and sub-therapeutic doses of oxycodone produces enhanced analgesic effects in human subjects, according to clinical trial data published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

A team of investigators from the United States and Australia assessed the efficacy of inhaled cannabis and low doses of oxycodone on experimentally-induced pain in a double-blind, placebo-controlled model. Researchers assessed subjects’ pain tolerance after receiving both substances separately or in concert with one another.

While neither the administration of cannabis nor oxycodone alone significantly mitigated subjects’ pain, the combined administration of both drugs did so effectively. Authors determined, “Both active cannabis and a low dose of oxycodone (2.5 mg) were sub-therapeutic, failing to elicit analgesia on their own; however, when administered together, pain responses … were significantly reduced, pointing to the opioid-sparing effects of cannabis.”

They concluded, “Smoked cannabis combined with an ineffective analgesic dose of oxycodone produced analgesia comparable to an effective opioid analgesic dose without significantly increasing cannabis’s abuse liability.”

The findings are similar to those of a 2011 clinical trial determining that vaporized cannabis interacts synergistically with opioids to induce pain relief and therefore “may allow for opioid treatment at lower doses with fewer side effects.”

In jurisdictions where marijuana is legally available, patients frequently acknowledge reducing their use of conventional medications, particularly opioids and benzodiazepines, after engaging in cannabis therapy.

For more information, contact Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director, at: Full text of the study, “Impact of co-administration of oxycodone and smoked cannabis on analgesia and abuse liability,” appears in Neuropsychopharmacology.

Study: Adolescent Cannabis Use Not Independently Linked With IQ Decline

ARIZONA: The habitual use of cannabis by teens is not independently linked with adverse changes in intelligence quotient or executive functioning, according to longitudinal data published online ahead of print in the journal Addiction.

A team of investigators from the United States and the United Kingdom evaluated whether marijuana use is directly associated with changes over time in neuropsychological performance in a nationally representative cohort of adolescent twins. Authors reported that “family background factors,” but not the use of cannabis negatively impacted adolescents’ cognitive performance.

They wrote: “[W]e found that youth who used cannabis … had lower IQ at age 18, but there was little evidence that cannabis use was associated with IQ decline from age 12 to 18. Moreover, although cannabis use was associated with lower IQ and poorer executive functions at age 18, these associations were generally not apparent within pairs of twins from the same family, suggesting that family background factors explain why adolescents who use cannabis perform worse on IQ and executive function tests.”

Investigators concluded, “Short-term cannabis use in adolescence does not appear to cause IQ decline or impair executive functions, even when cannabis use reaches the level of dependence.”

Their findings are consistent with those of several other studies – including those hereherehere, and here– finding that cannabis use alone during adolescence does not appear to have a significant, direct adverse effect on intelligence quotient.

widely publicized New Zealand study published in 2012 in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported that the persistent use of cannabis from adolescence to adulthood was associated with slightly lower IQ by age 38. However, a follow up review of the data published later in the same journal suggested that the observed changes were likely due to socioeconomic differences, not the subjects’ use of cannabis.