Medical marijuana is a hot button topic.

In spite of some recalcitrance at the federal and state level, medical cannabis is steadily on the rise and is disrupting the healthcare industry.

The opioid epidemic is one of the biggest health problems our country has faced in many years. The number of deaths related to prescription opioids, especially synthetic ones like fentanyl, has climbed drastically.

More than 64,000 people in the United States alone died from an opioid overdose in 2016 and those numbers increase every year.

Medical marijuana is turning this crisis on its ear in many states — a 2014 study found that states with medical marijuana programs have a 25 percent lower opioid-related death rate than states without access to cannabis.

This is due, in large part, to the fact that opioid painkiller prescriptions tend to drop in states with a functioning medical cannabis program.

In states with an operational program, doctors tend to issue roughly 1,800 fewer pain prescriptions than they do in states where medical marijuana is not legal yet.

Pain medication prescriptions aren’t the only ones seeing a drop in states where medical marijuana is legal. The average doctor in these states also prescribes fewer doses of common mental health medications as well.

On average, in states where medical cannabis is legal, doctors prescribe fewer doses of antidepressants and fewer doses of anxiety medication than in other states.

Now, cannabis isn’t a cure-all for mental illness, but it has shown to be a very effective supplemental treatment for depression and anxiety— without all of the side effects traditionally associated with psychiatric medications.

Many people with chronic conditions are limited to a very small number of treatment options. What do you do when those treatment options don’t work for you, or they’ve stopped being effective? For many, the answer is medical marijuana.

Medical cannabis has been used effectively for everything from chronic pain and cancer to multiple sclerosis and ulcerative colitis.

An Oxford-led study showed cannabis could stop the loss of brain activity seen in Alzheimer’s patients and linked marijuana treatments to a 40–50 percent epileptic seizure reduction in children.

It also opens up options for individuals with multiple diagnoses. For example — individuals with acid reflux disorder or GERD may not take pain medications because they exacerbate their stomach problems.

Cannabis can also be used as an exit drug for people trying to quit opioids, tobacco, and even alcohol.

Utilizing medical marijuana can help to lessen the withdrawal symptoms, which is essential for things like alcohol and opioid recovery because the withdrawal symptoms can be as dangerous as the addiction itself.

Chronic pain patients are among those that most frequently utilize opioid or other prescription pain medications. While effective when used correctly, these medications can lead to addiction and have devastating side effects.

Medical marijuana has proven to be an effective alternative to both over the counter and prescription painkillers, while still allowing the individuals to function normally during their daily life.

A Harvard-led study completed a systematic review of more than 28 medical marijuana for chronic pain studies and found that almost all patients who participated in those studies experienced improvement of their chronic pain symptoms.

One of the biggest problems with modern medicine isn’t the treatment itself — it’s the side effects. Patients who are diagnosed with cancer, for example, have to endure weeks or months of harsh chemotherapy and radiation treatment, both of which have some very uncomfortable side effects including hair loss, loss of appetite, and compromised immune systems.

Medical marijuana might not be a cure for cancer — no matter what the drug’s advocates might claim, but it can help to improve the quality of life for cancer patients during their treatment.

Patients with varying diagnoses, such as multiple sclerosis, cancer, HIV/AIDS and many more, have reported quality of life increases associated with their use of medical marijuana.

Only time will show us how this will all play out, but in the meantime, medical marijuana is here, and it is turning the medical industry on its ear.