Monday, July 6, 2020
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Medical Marijuana Reducing Opioid Deaths Is Complex

It has been said that legal marijuana may be what eventually tames the deadly nature of the opioid crisis. It turns out this claim is more truth than fiction. A recent study shows that medical marijuana could actually be lowering opioid overdoses. But we’re dealing with a complex situation here, according to researchers. The issue is not cut and dry.

It was just a few years ago that a study was published showing how opioid overdose cases had diminished in states with legal marijuana laws on the books. Although this data has faced a certain level of scrutiny by anti-pot arms of the federal government, namely U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, researchers now say the findings are real.

Researchers have confirmed that a 2014 study suggesting that marijuana could be a solution to the opioid epidemic is legit. The latest findings, which were published by the Journal of Health Economics, shows that people are using marijuana as a substitute to opioids. But the findings also give us a glimpse into something that is a bit bizarre. The study also found that medical marijuana programs eventually become less effective. It seems that opioid overdoses went down in times when regulations were less restrictive. But when tougher laws were applied, the result “completely disappears.”

Rosalie Liccardo Pacula, one of the lead researchers and co-director at RAND Drug Policy Research Center, says “this is a sign that medical marijuana, by itself, will not be the solution to the nation’s opioid crisis today.”

“While our study finds that medical marijuana dispensaries reduce some of the harms associated with the misuse of opioids, there is little evidence that this is happening because a large number of patients suffering from pain are using marijuana instead of opioid medications,” she added. “Either the patients are continuing to use their opioid pain medications in addition to marijuana, or this patient group represents a small share of the overall medical opioid using population.”

There is still a lot of work that needs to be done on this topic. The latest study only details the earlier stages of medical marijuana. Recreational laws do not fit into the equation. That is something that perhaps future explorations into this phenomenon might help clarify. But for now, researchers say the story of medical marijuana becoming a salvation’s wing for the opioid crisis is “complicated.” For example, passing medical marijuana laws for only a select group of patients is not likely to change anything. At the same rate, putting an ultra-restrictive program into place is not likely the solution either.

Said Pacula, “We need to fully understand the mechanism through which these laws may be helping and see if that mechanism still matters in today’s changing opioid crisis.”


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