The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published a study today titled “Opioids Out, Cannabis In” suggesting cannabis might start to replace opioid use in treating chronic and neuropathic pain. The Portland, Oregon-based research team wrote, “The mandated transition to limit use of opioids, paired with the current climate around liberalizing cannabis, may lead to patients’ formal and informal substitution of cannabis for opioids.”
The researchers cited a study that said pharmacies and medical facilities dispense more than 650,000 opioid prescriptions (i.e., bottles, not pills) per day in the United States, adding, “Unless the nation develops an increased tolerance to chronic pain, reduction in opioid prescribing leaves a vacuum that will be filled with other therapies.”
Medical cannabis could become one such therapy to fill that vacuum, the JAMA study reported, while simultaneously helping curb the opioid abuse epidemic. The researchers said observational studies found an association between state-legal cannabis and decreased opioid addiction and overdose, and a 2015 study suggested cannabis provides “moderately” effective relief for neuropathic and cancer-related pain. Still, the JAMA study highlighted the need for in-depth clinical studies to identify the most effective cannabinoid profiles for therapeutic use.
Painkillers are big business, and companies like Purdue Pharma (OxyContin) fear cannabis will reduce their pain-based profits. Consider this: The Sackler family (who owns Purdue) scored the highest debut on Forbes America’s Richest Families list in 2015, clocking in ahead of the Rockefellers and Mellons at No. 16 with $14 billion in personal wealth. One year later, the family slipped to No. 19 with a billion-dollar drop. Forbes cited declining opioid sales as the reason for the massive wealth reduction.
Purdue, not surprisingly, has a long history of bankrolling anti-cannabis groups and lobbyists. Expect this to continue as Big Pharma does all it can to prevent the JAMA headline from becoming a reality.