While opioid abuse is at a epidemic level in the United States, a leading neurologist thinks legal cannabis might be a key to slowing the problem and is urging federal agencies to ease regulations on studying medical marijuana.

78 people die in America every day from opioid overdose, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 580 begin using heroin and 3,900 people begin the recreational use of prescription painkillers every day.

But leading neurobiologist Yasmin L. Hurd is citing growing statistical evidence which shows that legal cannabis programs have a positive effect on an area’s opioid addiction rates. “States with legalized marijuana laws have reported a reduction in opioid use, as evidenced by lower number of prescriptions for opioid painkillers, reduced number of opioid overdoses and lower opioid-positive screens associated with car fatalities,” Hurd wrote in a review published in the journal Trends in Neuroscience.

Hurd is the Director of the Center for Addictive Disorders for the Mount Sinai Behavioral Health System and Ward-Coleman Chair of Translational Neuroscience at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

She says that cannabis legalization might cause a decrease in the need for prescription painkillers, since it provides easy access to a non-addictive pain treatment alternative. But she can’t be sure. No one can. That’s why she’s urging National Institutes of Health and other federal agencies to ease regulations on marijuana medical testing.

“The reasons for these associations have not been established, despite speculations regarding the potential for medicinal properties of marijuana to reduce opioid use,” she writes. “It is my opinion that bold steps are also required to escalate the pipeline in developing creative and innovative treatments to help curb this epidemic.”

In particular, she’s advocating clinical trials of CBD. These “must be of the highest priority to establish the most appropriate formulations, entourage effects with other cannabinoids, routes of administration and treatment regimens for the use of CBD by individuals with OUDs,” she writes.

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