We’re Not on OxyContin Anymore, Toto

Can Cannabinoids help alleviate America’s opioid crisis?

| Fall 2018

  • Researchers at UC San Diego found that, in states with legal cannabis, opioid abuse rates dropped by 23 percent, while opioid overdose cases fell an average of 13 percent.
    Photo by Getty Images/Sangriana

Perry Solomon is used to people extolling the virtues of medical cannabis.

Dr. Solomon is the chief medical officer of HelloMD, a website that bills itself as one of the nation’s largest online medical cannabis communities. Over the past five years, the site has issued more than 70,000 recommendations for patient cannabis use in the state of California alone. And 65 percent of those recommendations, Solomon says, have been for pain.

“Just yesterday, my cell phone rang, and it was a gentleman whose wife was using Vicodin for her fibromyalgia, and he wanted to know how to get her off of it,” Solomon reports. “We get questions like that all the time.” 

So last year, HelloMD and the University of California, Berkeley, decided to conduct a survey of HelloMD patients to see how well cannabis worked as a substitute for opioid- and non-opioid-based pain medications. Solomon was expecting positive results; similar earlier studies had shown that between 40 and 60 percent of participants were able to reduce their opioid use with medical cannabis.

But, he recalls, “I was shocked.”

When Solomon and his co-authors looked at the results of the study — the largest patient survey ever conducted on the topic — they found that 97 percent of the survey’s 2,897 respondents reported that they had decreased their opioid use while taking cannabis. “That’s almost everybody who uses cannabis,” Solomon says. “It’s an exit drug for the vast majority of patients.”

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