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  • Britain in the “midst of a great public health disaster”
  • Opioid use down in US states which have legalised medicinal cannabis

According to new survey data, Opioid Painkiller Dependency (OPD) is now affecting one in ten British adults. Over 1,000 people in Britain died from an overdose of a legal drug in 2014. In America this number rises to over 14,000. Is Britain really in the middle of a prescription drug crisis?

Harry Shapiro, Director of Drugwise

Harry Shapiro, head of addiction charity DrugWise certainly thinks so. Speaking at a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Prescribed Drug Dependence last October, Shapiro said that the number of people in Britain addicted to opioid prescription medication has grown to the point that it has thrown the country into the “midst of a great public health disaster, which is killing hundreds of people and ruining the lives of millions.”

However, there may be a remedy, and a very simple one at that: legalise cannabis, at least for medicinal purposes.

It’s been found that in US states where medicinal cannabis has been legalised the use of prescription medication has fallen. Researchers found that doctors in a ‘Green states’ prescribed 1,826 fewer doses of painkillers per year than those States whose populations have a lack of access to medical cannabis.

Cannabis’ potential to replace many of the prescription medications, leading to a dramatic decline in patients using traditional painkillers, has been noted by findings in a report published in Health Affairs (Vol 35 no.7 pp.1230-1236). Researchers found a link between legalised medical cannabis laws and a drop in prescriptions for opioid-based medication, such as antidepressants, sleeping pills, anxiety medication, seizure medication (for epileptics) and anti-nausea drugs.

A study published in Drug and Alcohol Review (Vol. 35, Issue 3, pp. 326-333) last May came to similar conclusions. The study found that patients are increasingly swapping their prescription medications, alcohol, and even other illicit drugs (such as heroin) with cannabis.

Researchers found that cannabis’ ability to act as a more effective pain reliever, with no serious side effects, was the driving force behind the drug swap.

Here’s what prescription drugs cannabis can replace:

  • Painkillers
    – Cannabis’ ability to act as a pain reliever is world renowned, explaining why the drug has been used medicinally for over 3,000 years.
    – Several studies and countless anecdotal evidence have concluded that cannabis is a more effective, and safer, treatment for people suffering from chronic pain.
  • Insomnia/Sleeping Aids
  • One of the most common medical uses of cannabis is for sleeping problems. Cannabis is infamous for its ability to put users to sleep and is proving a much safer alternative to insomnia medication.
  • Antidepressants
    – According to The Guardian, the number of antidepressants prescribed to people doubled in a decade, to more than 61m people, costing the taxpayer £285m a year.
    –  Several studies have found that cannabis can successfully help those suffering from depression, and in a much safer manner.
  • Anti-anxiety medication
    – This may seem like an oxymoron. Many people report a feeling of paranoia and anxiety attacks when they use cannabis. However, this may be down to strains with a lack of CBD and high levels of THC, particularly found in Sativa strains.
    – Indica strains, on the other hand, have been reported to show a reduction in the anxiety of users.
  • Stimulants/ ADHD medication
    – UK surveys found that 3.2% of boys and 0.85% of girls under 15 suffer from attention deficit disorders, and are subsequently prescribed medication with a range of negative side-effects, including loss of appetite and suicidal thoughts.
    – Opposed to those who suffer anxiety attacks, Sativa strains have proven more effective at treating ADHD.

If cannabis was legal for medical use in Britain, would this not allow users the choice to not only know which strain they need for their particular ailment but also the freedom to go and purchase their chosen medication without fear of prosecution and imprisonment?

Increasingly it seems that cannabis laws punish the most vulnerable members of our society more than any other social group. If cannabis does indeed have the potential to replace many of the prescription drugs which are wrecking the lives of millions, then is it not our duty to at least give it a go?

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