Cannabis is often considered a “gateway drug” likely to send users on a downward spiral of substance abuse – inevitably leading midnight tokers to much harder forms of pain relief. It is such a common belief, state-funded research generally supports the notion that marijuana is a risk factor for the subsequent misuse of illicit drugs.
But according to a recent study, smoking pot may actually have the opposite effect, reducing the use of “dangerous” drugs like “street heroin” and prescription painkillers.
Researchers from the University of New Mexico recently conducted an experiment to understand the effectiveness of cannabis as a pharmacological agent to rival prescription drugs. The team studied 125 chronic pain patients, 83 of whom enrolled in a medical cannabis program and 42 others who chose not to smoke marijuana.
Using five-years worth of data, they found that 28 cannabis program enrollees (or 34 percent) stopped using their prescribed medication altogether, compared to one (2 percent) of the non-smokers.
“Our current opioid epidemic is the leading preventable form of death in the US – killing more people than car accidents and gun violence,” lead author and psychology professor Jacob Miguel Vigil said.
“No one has ever died from smoking too much cannabis.”
“Therefore, the relative safety and efficacy of using cannabis in comparison to that of other scheduled medications should be taken by the health providers and legislators.”
Opioids (including prescription painkillers and street heroin) killed half a million Americans between 2000 and 2015 and claims 90 more lives each day, according to the Center for Disease Control.
“The potential for addiction and health risks associated with [prescription] drugs” costs patients and healthcare systems gravely due to side-effects like “dependency and overdose,” Vigil explains.
His team is currently employing “naturalistic studies” to see how older patients use and are affected by opioids, benzodiazepines and medical cannabis for treating expensive health conditions.