One of the arguments for legalizing recreational cannabis is that it would improve the opioid/substance use crisis. Can marijuana help with the treatment of more harmful addictions? Will marijuana increase overall rates of substance use disorder? I know and respect people who are passionate on both sides of this debate, and each perspective is represented in this article.
There is a mother whose child has struggled with various forms of addiction for many years. She sees legalization as a ray of hope for those struggling with addiction. She is certain that safe, legalized marijuana would allow her child to maintain recovery and avoid additional legal issues. She believes that cannabis will help with the discomfort and cravings of withdrawal. As a Pro Cannabis advocate, she emphasizes the benefits of natural health, the medical history that cannabis had before prohibition, and the natural endocannabinoid system in our bodies. She states that cannabis is better medically assisted treatment for opioids than the current practice of using suboxone, buprenorphine or methadone.
On the other hand, a friend in recovery is convinced that legalizing recreational marijuana is the worst thing that could happen for those involved in substance use. He believes that legalization could lead to increased addiction and abuse. He argues that alcohol and pot reduce impulse control and inhibition, and those under the influence are more likely to take risks that they would not take if sober. He points out that legalization of opioids and alcohol have only legitimized their use and created more abusers.
Pro-legalization supporters argue that no one has ever died of a marijuana overdose. The two sides quote differing research on whether or not legalization has increased or decreased opioid overdose fatalities in states with legalized use.
Opponents of legalization claim that legalizing marijuana increases the rates of addiction to harder drugs, such as heroin and meth. Pro-cannabis advocates claim that just because users of heroin or cocaine are likely to have used marijuana earlier in life doesn’t mean that cannabis was the catalyst for their later drug use. A person in recovery told me, “I know many people who use recreational marijuana and have not gone on to harder drugs. But every person I know who is using harder drugs, started with marijuana and alcohol.” Another person responded that cannabis might help people treat addiction to harder drugs “until they want a better high.”
Anecdotal stories do not reflect scientific research, but there is little consensus in the research. As with many controversial topics, both sides cite studies supporting their position and reasons to invalidate research by their opponents. Passionate people on both sides are often unconvinced by the arguments of the other side. The “truth” continues to be evasive and clear answers are few. The jury is still out on how legalization will affect many aspects of our society, as the debate continues.
Lynn Saylor is the AmeriCorps member working with the United Against Opioid Abuse Initiative alongside the White County United Way. She is a major facilitator of the United Council on Opioids serving White County and a regular contributor to local media.