According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, prescription opioid and heroin overdoses claim the lives of 91 Americans per day. The frequency of these tragedies has become an epidemic in the United States, and many are singing the praises of cannabis in helping to curb the abuse of, and deaths related to, use of these drugs. This isn’t just supposing on the part of researchers and physicians who stand at the front lines of this epidemic. Studies have been conducted since states began legalizing medicinal cannabis for their people, and researchers’ findings point toward cannabis as a potential solution. In fact, states with legal medical cannabis see fewer of these deaths-as many as 25% fewer.
This is no small figure, and a greater understanding of how cannabis works in those who are afflicted with addiction, as well as those who can benefit from the therapeutic effects of cannabis instead of prescribed opioid pharmaceuticals, could very realistically help us to figure out how to best combat this epidemic.
But the federal government isn’t keen on helping us to understand this connection.
Let’s consider, for a moment, Attorney General Jeff Sessions. This is a man who considers cannabis to be “only slightly less awful” than heroin, and who scoffs at the notion of legalized medical cannabis helping to save lives that would otherwise be lost to opioids. Currently there are laws in place that prevent the federal government from targeting states with medical cannabis programs, but Sessions has called for these protections to be repealed so that he can prosecute these states and those living within them.
Sessions’ frankly uneducated and belligerently incorrect position on cannabis is but one concern for those who wish to obtain a greater understanding of how cannabis can help a country that’s being overwhelmed by opioid-related deaths. The federal government still classifies cannabis as a Schedule One illicit substance, which makes it exceptionally difficult for researchers to conduct effective and comprehensive studies on the plant and its benefits. Because of cannabis’ scheduling in the eyes of federal law, researchers have to jump through hoops to obtain the right to study it.
University of Georgia public policy professor W. David Bradford is one researcher who has looked into the effects of cannabis legalization on opioid abuse and overdose. He noted that in states where medical cannabis programs exist, there are far fewer individuals filling opioid painkiller prescriptions. Less opioids in the hands of consumers means less overdoses and deaths overall, but it seems unlikely that the government will even consider making steps toward progress for as long as Reefer Madness-minded Sessions remains a part of the president’s administration.