Publication date: Jun 11, 2019
A new study shoots down the notion that medical marijuana laws can prevent opioid overdose deaths, challenging a favorite talking point of legal pot advocates. Previous research linked medical marijuana laws to slower-than-expected increases in state prescription opioid death rates from 1999 to 2010.
The scientists who published that work in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine in 2014 speculated that patients might be substituting marijuana for painkillers, though they warned against drawing conclusions. Still, states ravaged by opioid overdose deaths began to rethink the role of marijuana, leading several to legalize pot for medical use. So a team led by Chelsea Shover of Stanford University School of Medicine decided to update the analysis using data through 2017.
When they did, they found the reverse: Death rates involving prescription opioids were 23% higher than expected in states that passed medical marijuana laws. Legalizing medical marijuana “is not going to be a solution to the opioid overdose crisis,” said Shover, a postdoctoral scholar in psychiatry and behavioral sciences.
So there’s still reason to believe that for some people, marijuana can substitute for opioids as a pain reliever. As for addiction and the overdose crisis, “we should focus our research and policies on other questions that might make a difference,” Shover said. Johnson is a writer for the Associated Press.
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