Last year, a pharmaceutical company called Insys Therapeutics gave half a million dollars to the campaign to stop marijuana legalization in Arizona. The Phoenix-based company’s flagship product is a prescription opioid spray made from fentanyl, an incredibly addictive and deadly drug estimated to be 50 times stronger than heroin. Cannabis, Insys knew, could disrupt the $24 billion market for painkillers and cost them business. After all, cannabis is now being used to treat many of the problems for which opioids are prescribed: back pain, arthritis, basically any kind of chronic discomfort. And there are some pretty convincing reasons why someone in pain might choose cannabis over opioids: Opioids are physically addictive, and can kill you. Cannabis has never killed anyone, and the withdrawal is mostly psychological.
Insys’s cash injection seems to have worked – of the five states with adult-use cannabis legalization on the ballot in 2016, Arizona is the only place where it didn’t pass. This, of course, is the root of the opioid crisis: pharmaceutical companies care more about profit than they do about human health. These companies are powerful, and they have been funding the anti-pot lobby for a long time. Still, in the face of opposition from entrenched interests and the federal government, a growing chorus of experts is calling for us to look into the possibility that legal cannabis could replace opioids in many circumstances, saving hundreds of thousands of lives over the course of the next decade.
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