OPINION: Time to Give Mississippians Access to Medical Marijuana

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Given the current crisis associated with widespread opioid abuse, dependence and deaths, Mississippi’s leaders must find an effective and safer alternative to prescribing narcotic medications. Reducing dependence on opioids for pain management is a difficult challenge, but other states have provided their residents with another affordable, safe and effective option: medical marijuana (also known as therapeutic marijuana).

In response to a growing demand, 30 states, including Louisiana and Arkansas, have passed laws that allow physicians to issue prescriptions or certifications for medical marijuana for patients with debilitating disorders.

Studies have found that those laws, which provide access to marijuana through dispensaries, experience lower rates of prescription and recreational opioid addictions and deaths. A study from researchers at Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center, University of Pennsylvania, and Montefiore Medical Center and Albert Einstein College of Medicine showed that states with medical marijuana laws experienced an annual 25 percent lower average opioid overdose mortality rate compared to states without those laws.

Furthermore, there is significant evidence of opioid cessation among individuals who consume marijuana to treat chronic pain. A study from University of Michigan researchers showed that medical marijuana patients reported a 64-percent decrease in opioid use, as well as a reduction in the side effects that opioid medications cause, and 45 percent experienced an improved quality of life.

In a medical marijuana program in New Mexico, middle-aged participants who had habitually used opioids to treat back pain were able to significantly stop using opioids or reduce daily dosage of opioid use. They reported experiencing less pain, a higher quality of life, physical activity and concentration, and few adverse side effects.

Researchers at Bastyr University Research Institute showed that of the 2,700 participants using marijuana, most substituted it for prescription drugs (narcotics and opioids, anti-anxiety medications and anti-depressants). Also, the majority was primarily older women.

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