We’re growing increasingly concerned that marijuana opponents are adding to the opioid epidemic.

The latest example comes in a Feb. 22 report by Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) and the Marijuana Accountability Coalition (MAC), two cousin cannabis opposition groups fueled by Fake News.

This isn’t just “reefer madness.” This is far more serious, as the nation faces an opioid epidemic that was declared a public health emergency by President Trump. The crisis claimed more than 59,000 lives in 2016, and a recent forecast concluded that as many as 650,000 people will die over the next 10 years from opioid overdoses.

First of all, marijuana didn’t cause the opioid epidemic.

Over the past couple of decades, the health care system, bolstered by pharmaceutical companies, flooded the U.S. with opioid painkillers. From that came a spike in heroin sales; a result of people running out of opioids or wanting something stronger.

Still, Page 3 of the SAM and MAC report states, “In the time that the opioid epidemic has increased, the percentage of marijuana users who are using the drug frequently has skyrocketed. This is unsurprising, as peer-reviewed research has revealed early marijuana use more than doubles the likelihood of opioid use later in life.”

The former journalist in me cringed from reading the inaccuracy of the statement; the cannabis industry stakeholder in me worries what this fearmongering does to exacerbate a horrific opioid epidemic.

The truth is, marijuana may be leading to a lower opioid usage rate.

The most recent study comes from Minnesota health officials, who earlier this month released a comprehensive report on medical marijuana and pain. A medical marijuana program has existed in the state since May 2014 and distribution of products began in July 2015.

More than 350 patients involved in the Minnesota study initially reported using opioid painkillers. Nearly 63 percent reported reduced or eliminated opioid usage after six months of using medical cannabis. That is an incredible statistic that should NOT be ignored.

More than 60 percent of the more than 2,200 patients surveyed reported benefits from using marijuana during the first five months after Minnesota in August 2016 approved cannabis to treat pain. The survey also found that 43 percent of doctors observed medical marijuana having a positive effect on patients.

Data suggests that other states are seeing similar benefits. The start of legal marijuana in Colorado likely reversed a rising trend of prescription opioid overdose deaths in the state. Nearly one fewer person per month died of an opioid overdose in Colorado after the start of legal cannabis sales compared to before, according to a peer-reviewed study that appeared in the November 2017 issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

Other statistics to consider:

  • Researchers have found a 6.5 percent decrease in monthly opioid deaths after legal recreational marijuana sales began in Colorado.
  • A study in 2014 concluded that state medical marijuana laws were associated with lower opioid-overdose death rates.
  • Studies have found that marijuana is effective at controlling chronic pain.
  • Rates for opioid painkiller dependence and abuse dropped 23 percent where marijuana is legal for medicinal use; hospitalization rates for opioid overdoses dropped 13 percent.
  • A study in the Journal of Pain found that cannabis use was associated with a 64 percent decrease in opioid use in patients with chronic pain.

Other SAM and MAC Fake News items

The MAC and SAM report came with a long list of Fake News items beyond the opioid issue that are all easy to debunk with even the slightest review. Some highlights include:

  • The marijuana industry is intent on profiting from heavy, high-potency use !!! Fake News. Market trends suggest that consumers are seeking lower-dosage products, known as “microdosing.” Cannabis companies are hustling to stock enough of these products to keep up with demand, and a wide variety of these lower-dose products are in development.
  • Marijuana represents a growing and significant threat to public health and safety !!! Fake News. In Colorado, the Department of Public Safety reported a 6 percent decrease in the violent crime rate statewide from 2009-2014. Marijuana sales began to proliferate in Colorado in 2009. Oh, by the way, researchers from the University of Wisconsin Madison found that Denver home prices in the immediate vicinity of a recreational marijuana dispensary have risen at a fast pace since retail sales were legalized. One of the reasons is that security is stronger and communities are safer around cannabis businesses.
  • Teens are using more marijuana since legalization !!! Fake News. Adolescent marijuana use in Colorado has fallen to its lowest level in nearly a decade.

For a broader review of all of the Fake News in the SAM and MAC report, see the Colorado Marijuana Industry Group’s response.

While these other Fake News items are also important, we wanted to highlight where cannabis opponents are headed in terms of the opioid crisis, as this is an issue where they could be pushing people towards death. It’s somewhat surprising considering the people behind SAM and MAC are drug treatment counselors, psychiatrists and adolescent medicine specialists. Or, maybe that’s not surprising at all when we consider the origin of the opioid crisis.

But it’s not just “reefer madness” that these self-proclaimed experts are pushing; it’s a dangerous message that will lead to more and more fatal overdoses. We call for them to stop fueling this catastrophic epidemic. Sometimes it’s not about politics; sometimes it’s just about doing the right thing.