Study Claims Medical Cannabis Doesn’t Reduce Opioid Overdose Deaths

Medical cannabis and opioid overdose deaths
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The view that medical cannabis can help address some of the impacts of opioid abuse, specifically overdose deaths, has been challenged.

We’ve reported on the potential benefits of cannabis in relation to reducing opioid deaths quite often here on HempGazette, but researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine say it isn’t so.

A new study has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which was based on the same methods to extend a 2014 study indicating cannabis was of benefit in reducing these deaths. While it confirmed the results of 2014 study, that didn’t extend into 2017 when more states had jumped on the medical (and recreational) cannabis bandwagon.

“Not only did findings from the original analysis not hold over the longer period, but the association between state medical cannabis laws and opioid overdose mortality reversed direction from −21% to +23% and remained positive after accounting for recreational cannabis laws,” states the study.

That states with legal medical marijuana had a higher rate of deaths due to opioid overdose will come as quite a surprise.

While putting a dampener on the claim, the researchers acknowledge medical marijuana provides benefits and that research into its effectiveness should continue. The overdose death issue aside, cannabis is already successfully being used as a substitute for opioids in treating or managing various conditions.

“There are valid reasons to pursue medical cannabis policies, but this doesn’t seem to be one of them,” said one of the study’s authors, Chelsea Shover, PhD; who urged researchers and policymakers to find alternative ways to deal with reducing opioid overdose deaths.

Lead author Keith Humphreys, PhD said “it was something else about those states” that lead to the 2014 result. While not arriving at any firm conclusions, the fact that states that had legalized cannabis to varying degrees tended to be wealthier and more politically liberal was mentioned, as was access to addiction treatment and to naloxone (which reverses the effects of opioids).

It will be interesting to see how this study holds up under closer subsequent scrutiny.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, drug overdose deaths involving prescription opioids jumped from 3,442 in 1999 to 17,029 in 2017.