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Can cannabis be used to treat addiction?


For years, we’ve listened to propaganda suggesting that marijuana is a gateway to delinquent behaviors and stronger drugs. The “Just Say No” campaign focused law enforcement on the supposed evils of marijuana, while opiates were largely ignored and allowed to exact a far heavier toll on the health of the country. Now, as cannabis legalization crosses the nation and researchers strive to understand the opportunities of cannabinoid therapy, studies are beginning to indicate that cannabis may be a key to defeating addiction.

According to the American Addiction Centers, the disease of addiction currently affects over 21 million Americans. Addiction to alcohol, tobacco, illicit drugs, and prescription drugs currently adds up to a cost of more than $800 billion annually for the American public. Two million Americans struggle with addiction to prescription medications. Over 500,000 people suffer from an addiction to heroin, and over 2 million Americans struggle with addiction to prescription medications. In the last fifteen years, the number of accidental deaths by overdose has tripled.

Cannabis for Addiction Treatment

Cannabis is proving successful at combating addiction. A common argument is that replacing the dependence of one substance with a different substance is not an effective treatment for addiction. Addiction to marijuana is rare. Marijuana is less addictive than many legal substances. A third of the 52,000 deaths due to overdose in 2015 were caused by prescription drugs. 13,000 were caused by heroin. Not a single one was due to marijuana. Even the DEA admits that no one has ever died from marijuana overdose.

Cannabinoid Therapy for Addiction

Recent studies demonstrate the potential of cannabinoid therapy to treat addiction and reduce rates of overdose and prescription use. Legalizing cannabis has already resulted in a positive reduction on the number of overdose deaths in the United States. In 2014, researchers published findings in the Journal of the American Medical Association, showing that the states offering legal cannabis had nearly 25% fewer deaths related to opioid overdose. These same states also saw a decline in prescriptions used to treat anxiety, depression, nausea, psychosis, seizures, sleep disorders, and spasticity.

Researchers concluded that in 2013, medical marijuana has saved the Medicare program approximately $165 million. Legalizing medical marijuana nationwide adds up to a potential savings of around $470 million. Above and beyond cost savings, cannabinoid research promises hope for the millions who struggle with various forms of addiction.

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