Has the Daily Mail Changed its Stance on Medical Cannabis?

Many of my recent articles for medicalmarijuana.eu have focused on stories from the UK’s Daily Mail. Almost universally those articles have followed the same basic structure – a Daily Mail article will pop up on my radar, making some wild claim about the dangers of cannabis use. I’ll look into it, find the study they reference, read it, and explain why the Mail’s conclusions don’t add up.

Occasionally though, the Mail will buck their own trend, and publish something positive. Five days ago they did just that, so given all the stick I’ve thrown their way in the past, it would be rude not to take a closer look at this article, too.

The story focused on a study published on July 6th in Health Affairs. The aim of the study was to find out if there was evidence that cannabis was genuinely being used as a medicine in states which had passed medical marijuana laws. This may seem an odd question to ask, given the evidence already available regarding cannabis’ efficacy as a medicine, but what they wanted to know was whether medical cannabis was actually replacing other forms of medicine, which is a very interesting question indeed.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, they found that it is. Specifically, they found that “the use of prescription drugs for which marijuana could serve as a clinical alternative fell significantly, once a medical marijuana law was implemented. National overall reductions in Medicare program and enrolee spending when states implemented medical marijuana laws were estimated to be $165.2 million per year in 2013.”

The figures were pretty remarkable in terms of saving money, but the really important thing here is the patients. The researchers found that when a state adopted medical marijuana laws, the number of Medicare prescriptions significantly dropped for drugs that treat pain, depression, anxiety, nausea, psychoses, seizures and sleep disorders. For pain, the annual number of daily doses prescribed per physician fell by more than 11 per cent.

This is key, because the treatments usually prescribed for these conditions are almost certain to have more potentially harmful side effects than the cannabis that replaces them. So not only does a change in the law save money, it also saves lives.

The numbers are particularly important when it comes to pain medication. The USA is currently in the midst of an epidemic of opioid overdoses. Since 1999, more than 165,000 Americans have died as a result of prescription opioid overdoses, and nearly 2 million either abused or were addicted to the drugs in 2014.

A study released that year, which has now been backed up by this latest report, found that in states where medical cannabis is legal, opioid deaths fell by an average of 25%. Nationally, that could have equated to over 40,000 lives saved in 17 years, had medical cannabis been legal across the board.

There are some concerns, as the Mail’s article rightly pointed out, about whether cannabis is as effective a pain medication as some opioid medications, and as always more research should be carried out. But what we do know is that cannabis is infinitely less harmful, and if its use can replace even a fraction of the opioids currently consumed by Americans, it can only be a positive step. Add to that the huge potential savings for Medicare, and it becomes increasingly difficult to foresee a future without nationwide legalisation and adoption of medical marijuana.

Much of Europe is beginning to catch up, and the fact that the Daily Mail – so often a source of unsubstantiated scare stories when it comes to cannabis – has got on board with this story, can only add to the building pressure worldwide to do something about it. Opioid deaths may have reached epidemic levels in the USA, but if nothing is done to halt that trend we risk them becoming a pandemic that effects us all.

Deej Sullivan
Deej Sullivan is a writer and activist from the UK. He regularly writes on drug policy and politics for NORML UK, the UKCSCs, London Real, Politics.co.uk and his own blog, www.thedomesticextremist.co.uk


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