Legalizing Cannabis Reduces Opioid Demand

DEA stats back study’s claim that legal weed brings opioid use down

by Dessy Pavlova · February 13, 2023

Legalizing cannabis reduces opioid demand

DEA stats back study’s claim that legal weed brings opioid use down

Cannabis is often used as a pain-killer and sleep aid, and users claim that using the plant has made them less dependent on pharmaceutical therapies like opioids and sleep medications. Studies are now underway to investigate these anecdotal claims, and some interesting revelations have been made by comparing data in states where cannabis has been legalized to states where prohibition continues.

A unique cannabis study conducted by researchers from four different universities suggests that recreational cannabis use has resulted in reduced demand for some opioids, namely codeine. The study, published in Health Economics, took the novel approach of using DEA data as its primary source, which the department collects to track trends in drug distribution at pharmacies and hospitals around the country. The researchers used this data to analyze pain-killer opioid distribution in 11 states where recreational cannabis is legal. What they found was consistent with their hypothesis–that reductions in retail pharmacy-based codeine distribution is linked to the legalization of recreational cannabis.

Demand for codeine drops where cannabis is legal

While demand for opioids like hydrocodone and morphine did not see the same reduction, the significant decrease in demand for codeine is compelling to researchers, since it is an opioid that is particularly easy to misuse.

The study echoes another that found that the majority of a group of chronic pain patients chose cannabis as a therapy over other pain medications, including opioids. Another showed that the pharmaceutical industry records losses in the billions in states where cannabis has been legalized, strongly suggesting that patients are actively seeking alternatives to conventional pain medications, often citing their potential for debilitating addiction. Research shows that most patients who switched from pain-killers like opioids to cannabis to manage their pain did not report any decrease in quality of life. These include chronic pain patients and certain cancer patients.

While most of these studies conclude with a caution that more research is needed to determine the consequences of long-term medical cannabis use, they have shown that cannabis and its derivatives have profound effects on different conditions and illnesses. From treating certain types of anxiety like PTSD and OCD, to reducing epileptic seizures, to treating pain so effectively in some cases that powerful opioids are no longer needed, the potential of cannabis as a viable alternative to prescription drugs is clear.