Navigation Link
Drug Addiction
Basic InformationLatest News
'Cannabis Use Disorder' Up in States That Legalized Recreational PotOne Region Is Being Hit Hardest by U.S. Opioid CrisisHealth Tip: Medication and Substance Abuse RecoveryBeating Opioid Addiction Can Be Tough, Here's What HelpsComing Soon: A 'Pot Breathalyzer'?U.S. Opioid Deaths Take a Small Dip, as Fentanyl Leaves Deadly MarkOxyContin Maker Purdue Offering Up to $12 Billion to Settle Opioid Claims'Synthetic Pot' Laced With Rat Poison Lands People in the ERJudge Orders Johnson & Johnson to Pay $572 Million Over Opioid Drug CrisisAmerica Has a Huge -- and Very Costly -- Drug HabitAll U.S. Adults Should Be Screened for Illicit Drug Use, National Panel UrgesLethal Deception: Deaths From Cocaine Laced With Fentanyl on the RiseMany Young Americans Regret Online Posts Made While HighToo Few U.S. Opioid Users Are Getting OD AntidoteDrug Experimentation and Summer a Dangerous DuoMedical Marijuana Won't Help Ease Opioid Crisis: StudyOpioid Epidemic Doubled Number of U.S. Kids Sent to Foster CareKeep Unused Meds Out of the Hands of AddictsFDA Warns Two Kratom Marketers About False ClaimsFatal Opioid ODs Rise as Temperatures FallDrug ODs, Suicides Soaring Among Millennials: ReportLegalizing Medical Pot Won't Ease Opioid Crisis: StudyDrugstores Often Don't Have Opioid Antidote in Stock, Philly Study Shows'Secret Shopper' Study Finds Many Who Need Addiction Treatment Can't Get ItHealth Tip: Naloxone Fast FactsCould CBD Treat Opioid Addiction?Heroin ODs Have Started Declining in Some StatesQuantity, Not Type of Opioid Matters for Post-Op DependencyMore Than 600,000 Opioid Abusers Raising Kids in U.S.Many Drug Abusers Use Family Members to 'Opioid Shop'Poor, Minorities Shortchanged on Opioid Addiction TreatmentsDispensing Opioid Antidote Without a Prescription Might Save LivesFentanyl Becoming a Deadly Accomplice in Cocaine, Meth AbuseNot Just Opioids: Deaths Tied to Cocaine, Meth Are Soaring, TooMany Drivers Testing Positive for Marijuana, Even With Kids in CarFDA Approves 1st Generic Nasal Spray Against Opioid OverdoseAnother Cost of the Opioid Epidemic: Billions of Dollars in Lost TaxesNurse Practitioners Often Restricted From Prescribing Opioid TreatmentsIn Most States, Insurance Won't Cover Addiction TreatmentsOverdose Deaths From Fentanyl Soaring: ReportMany With Opioid Addiction Don't Get Meds That Can HelpVets Who Get Opioids From VA, Medicare at Higher Overdose RiskU.S. Deaths From Suicide, Substance Abuse Reach Record HighOpioid Overdose Deaths Quadruple, Centered in 8 StatesAmong Rich Nations, U.S. Has Highest Rate of Fatal Drug ODsFDA Fell Short in Preventing Fentanyl Abuse Crisis, Report ClaimsMore Car Crashes Tied to Drivers High on OpioidsPoor Whites Bear the Brunt of U.S. Opioid Crisis, Studies FindOpioid Addicts Are Overdosing on Diarrhea DrugMaking OxyContin 'Tamper Proof' Helped Spread Hepatitis C
Related Topics

Legalizing Medical Pot Won't Ease Opioid Crisis: Study

HealthDay News
by By Dennis ThompsonHealthDay Reporter
Updated: Jun 10th 2019

new article illustration

MONDAY, June 10, 2019 (HealthDay News) -- Medical marijuana has been a beacon of hope in the opioid epidemic, with states legalizing weed in hopes that its use will cut down on fatal overdoses from painkiller use.

Now, a new study is throwing cold water on that notion.

There's no association between medical marijuana laws and opioid overdose death rates, researchers report.

The OD death rate actually increased between 1999 and 2017 in states that legalized medical pot, rising by about 23%, according to new results.

However, that doesn't mean medical marijuana is spurring on opioid ODs, researchers emphasize.

"We don't think that means medical cannabis is killing people now, and we also think it wasn't saving them before," said senior researcher Keith Humphreys.

"There must be other things driving this relationship this way and that way, but it's not fundamentally a causal relationship," said Humphreys, a Stanford University professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences.

The new report -- in the June 10 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences -- replicates and extends a 2014 study. That study found that medical marijuana might be providing patients with a less dangerous alternative to opioids for pain relief.

The earlier study discovered that state medical pot laws had been associated with a 21% reduction in opioid overdose death rates between 1999 and 2010.

"States have been using the findings from the earlier study as justification for legalizing medical cannabis," said lead researcher Chelsea Shover, a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford.

But the marijuana legalization landscape has changed in the United States since then. Medical marijuana is now allowable in 47 states, up from just 13 states in 2010.

Humphreys, Shover and their colleagues decided to revisit the earlier study, broadening it by adding seven years of data gathered as pot legalization swept the nation.

"We repeated the original study. We used the same methods," Shover said. "We even found the same thing if we stopped at 2010. But when we looked over a longer time frame, the trend went away and even reversed."

Emily Feinstein is the Center on Addiction's chief operating officer and executive vice president. She said the new study shows that many states "have been misled by insufficient or misinterpreted studies into thinking that marijuana is an effective tool to fight the opioid crisis.

"There is a lot of wishful thinking about marijuana. People want to see it as a magic bullet, or a harmless, beneficial medicine, but that image is being driven by an industry that places profits before the public's health," Feinstein said. "We need to craft marijuana policies that are based in strong, credible data, not associations, suggestions or personal experience."

Researchers suspect that the first set of positive findings was based on other state-level policies that reduced opioid deaths in states that, by coincidence, also were early adopters of medical pot.

These policies included better access to health care, an emphasis on treating addiction as a disease, and policies that steered drug offenders into treatment rather than prison, Humphreys and Shover said.

The researchers also noted that only about 2.5% of the U.S. population uses medical marijuana, which makes it unlikely that its use could affect death stats.

A representative of the marijuana pro-reform group NORML agreed that the new results have been shaped by the inclusion of more states, but the group continues to stand by the idea that medical pot can reduce drug overdoses.

"Not all medical or legalization programs are equal," said Mitch Earleywine, advisory board member of NORML and a professor of psychology at University at Albany-State University of New York.

He believes states that more recently adopted medical marijuana laws are doing a lousy job getting medicinal pot into the hands of people who would benefit from it.

"Including a state with a brand-new, barely functional distribution system in the group of 'legal' or 'medical' states will dilute any impact of the laws, because the cannabis simply isn't as available as it might be in states with established programs that have run for years," Earleywine said.

Marijuana does have a place in medicine, Shover said.

"The takeaway from our study is that not that cannabis has no medical benefit. Cannabinoids do seem to have medical benefits in some contexts," Shover said.

But people shouldn't hold onto false hope that medical pot laws will reduce opioid OD deaths, Humphreys said. Instead, states need to focus on better policies that get addicts into treatment and make the OD-reversing drug naloxone more readily available.

"I understand the desperation that's out there," Humphreys said. "But we have to go with the evidence. It isn't true."

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse has more about medical marijuana.