Medical Cannabis’ #1 Benefit: Reducing Opioid Consumption

Debate over medical cannabis efficacy continues. Proponents pitch medical cannabis as the greatest discovery since penicillin while proponents continue to view it as one of society’s greatest evils. It is a strange debate to witness. But if a recently released study is any indication, there is one very important benefit medical cannabis brings to the table. It is a benefit that should not be ignored.

The study reveals that more than half of chronic pain patients who rely on cannabis to treat their pain have also been able to decrease their use of opioid pain medications. They use fewer OTC pain meds too, but that is a different topic for another post.

Knowing what we know about the ongoing opioid crisis, we should be willing to try anything that can help patients safely get off opioids – or never use them at all. If medical cannabis can do that, we ought to be championing it as a pain relief option.

Opioid and Marijuana Statistics

Opioids have been a scourge on the U.S. for decades. According to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics, roughly 10 million people abuse opioids every year. Some 50,000 people die annually from opioid overdose, and more than 70% of all overdose deaths are in some way related to opioid use.

Prescription opioids can easily become a gateway to addiction and abuse. Not only that, but the fact also that so many prescription opioids are dispensed gives manufacturers plenty of reason to continue producing the drugs. The end result is an ample supply of illicit opioids on the street.

As for marijuana, 12% of U.S. adults smoked marijuana in 2021. That amounts to about 24 million people. More importantly, the data doesn’t include those who vaped or used tinctures, transdermal products, or edibles. It also does not account for the millions more who use cannabis medicinally.

Pain Is Still the Biggest Complaint, a Utah organization that helps patients obtain and renew medical cannabis cards, says that pain is still the biggest complaint medical providers hear from patients across the country. Both chronic and acute pain that would otherwise be treated with opioids can now be treated with medical cannabis in 38 states.

Think about that for just one minute. How many chronic pain patients now rely on prescription opioids just to get through the day? How many acute pain patients will be offered prescription opioids this year?

In 2022, Utah lawmakers added acute pain to their qualifying conditions list. Now that they have, patients scheduled for surgery can apply for medical cannabis cards if they and their doctors agree that their post-op pain will probably be significant enough to require medication. If a doctor would otherwise prescribe opioids, they can recommend cannabis instead.

One Less At-Risk Patient

Utah adding acute pain to its qualifying conditions list illustrates the main point of this post perfectly. A patient choosing to obtain a medical cannabis card prior to surgery could make the choice to not take opioids at all. That is one less at-risk patient who will end up addicted to opioids as a result of their surgery. That is a good thing by all accounts.

Sure, there is some debate over efficacy. But even if you are among those who believe marijuana is no better than a placebo, we cannot deny the fact that chronic pain patients who treat with medical cannabis are using fewer opioids. Even if cannabis’ medical efficacy proves to be a flop in every other area, its ability to reduce opioid consumption makes it worthwhile. Reducing opioid use is hands down its number one benefit.