Feds study if cannabis leads to curbing opioid epidemic


Logan Lowrey-Rasmussen

Last week, the National Institutes of Health awarded a $3.8 million grant to researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Health System, which marked the first time the U.S. Government had backed medical cannabis research as a possible solution to chronic pain and opioid abuse. 

The study will consist of 250 HIV positive and HIV negative patients enrolled in New York’s medical cannabis program. Patients will examine pain reports in the form of web-based questionnaires to see which medicine (cannabis or opioids) patients are experiencing the most success.

Researchers will also collect blood and urine samples throughout the course of 18 months, as well as interviews from patients about how they feel about opioid versus cannabis use.

“There is a lack of information about the impact of medical cannabis on opioid use in those with chronic pain,” Chinazo Cunningham, M.D., M.S., associate chief of general internal medicine at Einstein and Montefiore, said in a statement. “We hope this study will fill in the gaps and provide doctors and patients with some much needed guidance.”

In 2016, the average cost of care per ICU overdose admissions rose by fifty-eight percent, from $58,517 in 2009 to $92,408 in 2015. Opioid deaths in the ICU nearly doubled during the same period.

Overdose-related deaths in 2016 also exceeded 59,000, the largest annual jump ever recorded in the United States, according to preliminary data. Deaths rose 19 percent over the 52,404 recorded in 2015. 

Last Thursday, President Trump declared the opioid crisis a “state of emergency,” which would allow states to implement disaster funding to curb the epidemic after legislation is signed.