Today, Sean Spicer had the audacity to insinuate that recreational cannabis use is somehow “encouraging people” to use opioids.
This statement obviously reflects the outdated and unsubstantiated "gateway" theory (that cannabis use “opens the door” to using more harmful illegal drugs). It also flies in the face of a wealth of scientific studies that show the complete opposite of what he is suggesting.
2014 was the first time we observed cannabis’ protective effect against opioids on a large scale. Bachhuber and colleagues (at the Philadelphia Veterans Association) showed that in states with medicinal cannabis laws, there was a 25% drop in opioid overdose deaths.
If we extrapolate that data across the country, then we’re talking about 8,300 lives that could have been saved.
This isn’t just some fluke. Using a completely different research method, a team at Columbia University recently (July 2016) found nearly identical numbers when it comes to cannabis’ ability to prevent opioid deaths.
Cannabis doesn’t discriminate when it comes to protecting people from opioids. After being given access to cannabis, chronic pain patients reliably cut their opioid doses by almost half… they do this on their own, without guidance from their doctors. These findings have been replicated across the globe, from Ann Arbor to Jerusalem.
But it’s not just medical patients that reap these benefits. By studying a group of illegal opioid abusers, researchers in Vancouver, BC have produced some very promising preliminary data. These early results show that cannabis use also significantly lowers an opioid abuser’s risk of ending up in the ER with a non-fatal overdose.
This protective effect probably has something to do with the actions of a specific molecule within the cannabis plant, cannabidiol (CBD). In 2015, researchers at Mt. Sinai (NY) showed that even a single dose of CBD significantly reduced drug craving in people who abuse heroin. Even more importantly, when people were given CBD for 3 consecutive days, it wasn’t just their heroin craving that went down: they also had a big reduction in their anxiety, which is a common side effect of chronic drug abuse.
Clearly, this data isn't enough to convince Sean Spicer, and the rest of the Trump administration. As promising as all these results are, we have barely glimpsed the tip of the iceberg when it comes to understanding the protective and beneficial effects of cannabis. This plant is incredibly complex and variable. As are the people using it, for the myriad effects they desire.
To me, this only shows why continued research into the positive effects cannabis has on opioid abuse are so important. We must continue to get data, not opinions, so we can link the characteristics of cannabis to specific health outcomes.
-Adie Poe, Ph.D.