Sen. Elizabeth Warren wants the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to explore the use of medical marijuana as an alternative to the powerful opioid painkillers that kill thousands of people each year.
In a letter to CDC chief Tom Friedan, the Massachusetts Democrat also asks the agency to look into “the impact of the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana on opioid overdose deaths.”
From a public health standpoint, Warren is right. There is a lot of potential here. Here’s a rundown of what the research has shown so far:
Marijuana is effective at treating pain
A big meta-analysis of 79 studies in the Journal of the American Medical Association found solid evidence that marijuana is effective at treating chronic pain. The researchers noted “30% or greater improvement in pain with cannabinoid compared with placebo.”
Marijuana is safe when used to treat pain
A Canadian study published last year in the journal Pain found no evidence of serious side effects among medical marijuana users after a year of treatment. Users did report some incidence of “non-serious” side effects, such as coughing and dizziness, however.
Medical marijuana users are less likely to drink or take other painkillers
Research published last year in the journal Drug and Alcohol Review found that 80 percent of medical marijuana users reported substituting pot for painkillers, and 52 percent said they drank less when taking medical marijuana.
“The high rate of substitution for prescribed substances, particularly among patients with pain-related conditions, suggests that further research into cannabis/cannabinoids as a potentially safer substitute for or adjunct to opiates is justified,” the researchers concluded.