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Legalized marijuana linked to lower opioid abuse; death rates
A new study analyzed more than 1.5 billion opioid prescriptions over eight years.
- A new study analyzed over 1.5 billion opioid prescriptions between 2011 and 2018.
- Researchers discovered opioid prescription reductions of 11.8 percent and 4.2 percent in states that passed recreational and medical cannabis laws.
- The U.S. government needs to reschedule cannabis because researchers believe it has therapeutic value.
Pain is important. It informs us of problems that need attention. Our biological pain system can go awry: some people don't feel any pain while others experience chronic pain with no evident cause. There's mental pain, which from a physiological perspective is no different than physical pain, which is why aspirin is sometimes used to treat emotional duress.
Our relationship to pain seems to become more problematic as societies acclimate to higher levels of comfort. The habit of pill-popping to counter any negative biological reaction is so engrained that we rarely question their chemical composition or long-term consequences. The shift from aspirin for minor aches and pains to the surge in opioid consumption signals a culture unwilling to deal with even the slightest discomfort.
Of course, there are good reasons for some opioid usage, but the scourge of addiction has hit us hard. Families across the nation have lost loved ones. Indeed, over a two-decade period, more than 700,000 Americans died from drug overdoses — the bulk of them opioid-related.
As I've written about previously, over a one-year period I was given access to 120 Oxycodone tablets for surgeries due to cancer and a meniscus tear. Both times I took one and discarded the bottle. Instead, I turned to cannabis for pain management, which was not only more effective but also did not leave me susceptible to addiction.
Could Cannabis Be A Solution To The Opioid Crisis?
I'm not alone. While there have been numerous reports about the benefits of cannabis for pain management instead of opioids, a new study, published on Dec. 14 in Journal of Health Economics, analyzed over 1.5 billion opioid prescriptions given between 2011 and 2018. The researchers confirmed the hype: states that legalize marijuana see sizable drops in opioid consumption.
Opioid prescriptions quadrupled between 2000–2015. As with the mental health industry and SSRIs scripts, pain management in recent years has relied on a money-making band-aid instead of actually treating the cause. It's much easier to write a prescription and send the patient on their way than to root out a diagnosis and plot out an extensive plan to help them overcome it. This trend also revitalized heroin consumption, which became a cheaper solution when pill bottles could not be found.
Enter the burgeoning field of cannabis science. As the researchers write,
"One policy option that has the potential to reduce opioid prescriptions and opioid-related deaths is the passage of cannabis access laws. These state laws facilitate access to cannabis by removing state legal barriers — though possession of cannabis remains illegal under federal law."
The researchers, from the University of Alabama School of Law and Vanderbilt University, list numerous studies confirming cannabis's efficacy in pain management, again calling into question why it remains listed as a Schedule 1 substance. Regardless, society is moving quicker than legislation. People want to feel better, not become beholden to a drug whose efficacy is clinically worse than marijuana.
Marijuana activists hold up a 51-foot inflatable joint during a rally at the U.S. Capitol to call on Congress pass cannabis reform legislation on Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019.
Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images
The team analyzed roughly 90 percent of all opioid scripts written over an eight-year period. They compare regional data with the passage of both Recreational Cannabis Laws (RCL) and Medical Cannabis Laws (MCL), discovering prescription reductions of 11.8 percent and 4.2 percent, respectively. When people are given the option, they are more likely to go with the proven track record of marijuana. The team concludes,
"The evidence reported here presents the most accurate picture of the effect of cannabis access laws on prescription opioid use to date and can therefore inform the ongoing state and national debates over the legality of cannabis as well as other policy options to combat the opioid epidemic."
Pain affects aging populations more, and so the researchers looked into RCLs and MCLs affecting Medicare and Medicaid rates. If all states passed MCLs in 2014, Medicaid savings would have been over $1 billion. They also found, as has been widely reported, states that pass MCLs and RCLs experience lower mortality rates from opioid overdoses.
There is an ongoing debate about whether you can become addicted to cannabis or just dependent, yet one thing is clear: marijuana is not nearly as dangerous as opioids. Pain management is a discussion the medical industry needs to have with their patients. Avoiding pain at any cost is not worth it. For those suffering from pain, there is at least one viable solution. Our government needs to recognize this fact and change the scheduling, while doctors have to honor science instead of lobbying and marketing efforts by pharmaceutical companies.
- Legalizing Marijuana May End the Opioid Crisis, Say Scientists - Big ... ›
- Opioid deaths surge as pandemic spreads across U.S. - Big Think ›
Scientists use new methods to discover what's inside drug containers used by ancient Mayan people.
- Archaeologists used new methods to identify contents of Mayan drug containers.
- They were able to discover a non-tobacco plant that was mixed in by the smoking Mayans.
- The approach promises to open up new frontiers in the knowledge of substances ancient people consumed.
PARME staff archaeologists excavating a burial site at the Tamanache site, Mérida, Yucatan.
While not the first such minister, the loneliness epidemic in Japan will make this one the hardest working.
- The Japanese government has appointed a Minister of Loneliness to implement policies designed to fight isolation and lower suicide rates.
- They are the second country, after the U.K., to dedicate a cabinet member to the task.
- While Japan is famous for how its loneliness epidemic manifests, it isn't alone in having one.
The Ministry of Loneliness<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/I5FIohjZT8o" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p><a href="https://www.jimin.jp/english/profile/members/114749.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Tetsushi Sakamoto</a>, already in the government as the minister in charge of raising Japan's low birthrate and revitalizing regional economies, was appointed this <a href="https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/02/21/national/japan-tackles-loneliness/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">month</a> to the additional role. He has already announced plans for an emergency national forum to discuss the issue and share the testimony of lonely <a href="https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/02/12/national/loneliness-isolation-minister/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">individuals</a>.</p><p>Given the complexity of the problem, the minister will primarily oversee the coordination of efforts between different <a href="https://www.insider.com/japan-minister-of-loneliness-suicides-rise-pandemic-2021-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ministries</a> that hope to address the issue alongside a task <a href="https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/02/21/national/japan-tackles-loneliness/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">force</a>. He steps into his role not a moment too soon. The loneliness epidemic in Japan is uniquely well known around the world.</p><p><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hikikomori" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Hikikomori</em></a><em>,</em> often translated as "acute social withdrawal," is the phenomenon of people completely withdrawing from society for months or years at a time and living as modern-day hermits. While cases exist in many <a href="https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00247/full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">countries</a>, the problem is better known and more prevalent in Japan. Estimates vary, but some suggest that one million Japanese live like this and that 1.5 million more are at <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/photography/article/japan-hikikomori-isolation-society" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">risk</a> of developing the condition. Individuals practicing this hermitage often express contentment with their isolation at first before encountering severe symptoms of loneliness and <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/01/200110155241.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">distress</a>.</p><p><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kodokushi" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Kodokushi</em></a>, the phenomenon of the elderly dying alone and remaining undiscovered for some time due to their isolation, is also a widespread issue in Japan that has attracted national attention for decades.</p><p>These are just the most shocking elements of the loneliness crisis. As we've discussed before, loneliness can cause health issues akin to <a href="https://www.inc.com/amy-morin/americas-loneliness-epidemic-is-more-lethal-than-smoking-heres-what-you-can-do-to-combat-isolation.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">smoking</a>. A lack of interaction within a community can cause social <a href="https://bigthink.com/in-their-own-words/how-religious-neighbors-are-better-neighbors" target="_self">problems</a>. It is even associated with changes in the <a href="https://bigthink.com/mind-brain/loneliness-brain" target="_self">brain</a>. While there is nothing wrong with wanting a little time to yourself, the inability to get the socialization that many people need is a real problem with real <a href="https://bigthink.com/mind-brain/brain-loneliness-hunger" target="_self">consequences</a>.</p>
The virus that broke the camel's back<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Hp-L844-5k8" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p> A global loneliness pandemic existed before COVID-19, and the two working in tandem has been catastrophic. </p><p>Japanese society has always placed a value on solitude, often associating it with self-reliance, which makes dealing with the problem of excessive solitude more difficult. Before the pandemic, 16.1 percent of Japanese seniors reported having nobody to turn to in a time of need, the highest rate of any nation <a href="https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/02/21/national/japan-tackles-loneliness/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">considered</a>. Seventeen percent of Japanese men surveyed in 2005 said that they "rarely or never spend time with friends, colleagues, or others in social groups." This was three times the average rate of other <a href="http://www.oecd.org/sdd/37964677.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">countries</a>. </p><p>American individualism also creates a fertile environment for isolation to grow. About a month before the pandemic started, nearly<a href="https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/01/23/798676465/most-americans-are-lonely-and-our-workplace-culture-may-not-be-helping" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> 3 in 5</a> Americans reported being lonely in a <a href="https://www.cigna.com/about-us/newsroom/studies-and-reports/combatting-loneliness/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">report</a> issued by Cigna. This is a slight increase over previous studies, which had been pointing in the same direction for years. </p><p>In the United Kingdom, the problem prompted the creation of the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness. The commission's <a href="https://www.ageuk.org.uk/globalassets/age-uk/documents/reports-and-publications/reports-and-briefings/active-communities/rb_dec17_jocox_commission_finalreport.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">final report </a>paints a stark picture of the U.K.'s situation in 2017, with millions of people from all parts of British society reporting feeling regular loneliness at a tremendous cost to personal health, society, and the economy.</p><p>The report called for a lead minister to address the problem at the national level, incorporating government action with the insights provided by volunteer organizations, businesses, the NHS, and other organizations on the crisis's front lines. Her Majesty's Government acted on the report and appointed the first Minister for Loneliness in <a href="https://time.com/5248016/tracey-crouch-uk-loneliness-minister/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2018</a>, <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tracey_Crouch" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Tracey Crouch</a>, and dedicated millions of pounds to battling the problem. </p><p>The distancing procedures necessitated by the COVID-19 epidemic saved many lives but exacerbated an existing problem of loneliness in many parts of the world. While the issue had received attention before, Japan's steps to address the situation suggest that people are now willing to treat it with the seriousness it deserves.</p><p>--</p><p><em>If you or a loved one are having suicidal thoughts, help is available. The suicide prevention hotline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.</em></p>
MIT professor Azra Akšamija creates works of cultural resilience in the face of social conflict.