Some preliminary studies have suggested that medical marijuana legalization might be associated with decreased prescription opioid use and overdose deaths, but researchers don't have enough evidence yet to confirm this finding. For example, one NIDA-funded study suggested a link between medical marijuana legalization and fewer overdose deaths from prescription opioids. But this study didn't show that medical marijuana legalization caused the decrease in deaths or that pain patients changed their drug-taking behavior. A more detailed NIDA-funded analysis showed that legally protected medical marijuana dispensaries, not just medical marijuana laws, were also associated with a decrease in the following
Additionally, data suggests that medical marijuana treatment may reduce the opioid dose prescribed for pain patients, and
a recent study showed that availability of medical marijuana for
Medicare patients reduced prescribing of medications, including opioids,
for their pain. NIDA
is funding additional studies to determine the link between medical
marijuana use and the use or misuse of opioids for pain.
The potential medicinal properties of marijuana and its components have been the subject of research and heated debate for decades. THC itself has proven medical benefits in particular formulations. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved THC-based medications, dronabinol (Marinol®) and nabilone (Cesamet®), prescribed in pill form for the treatment of nausea in patients undergoing cancer chemotherapy and to stimulate appetite in patients with wasting syndrome due to AIDS.
In addition, several other marijuana-based medications have been approved or are undergoing clinical trials. Nabiximols (Sativex®), a mouth spray that is currently available in the United Kingdom, Canada, and several European countries for treating the spasticity and neuropathic pain that may accompany multiple sclerosis, combines THC with another chemical found in marijuana called cannabidiol (CBD). CBD does not have the rewarding properties of THC, and anecdotal reports indicate it may have promise for the treatment of seizure disorders, among other conditions. A CBD-based liquid medication called Epidiolex is currently being tested in the United States for the treatment of two forms of severe childhood epilepsy, Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.
Researchers generally consider medications like these, which use
purified chemicals derived from or based on those in the marijuana
plant, to be more promising therapeutically than use of the whole
marijuana plant or its crude extracts. Development of drugs from
botanicals such as the marijuana plant poses numerous challenges.
Botanicals may contain hundreds of unknown, active chemicals, and it can
be difficult to develop a product with accurate and consistent doses of
these chemicals. Use of marijuana as medicine also poses other problems
such as the adverse health effects of smoking and THC-induced cognitive
impairment. Nevertheless, a growing number of states have legalized
dispensing of marijuana or its extracts to people with a range of
medical conditions. Soon North Carolina will add itself to this list, full freedom for it citizens.