New research raises questions as to relationship between medical marijuana reform and opioid overdoses

0
66

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

New research raises questions as to relationship between medical marijuana reform and opioid overdoses

This new study just published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that previously encouraging findings suggesting that medical marijuana reforms contributed to a reduction in opioid overdose deaths may not hold up over time.  Here is the article’s abstract:

Medical cannabis has been touted as a solution to the US opioid overdose crisis since Bachhuber et al. [M. A. Bachhuber, B. Saloner, C. O. Cunningham, C. L. Barry, JAMA Intern. Med. 174, 1668–1673] found that from 1999 to 2010 states with medical cannabis laws experienced slower increases in opioid analgesic overdose mortality.  That research received substantial attention in the scientific literature and popular press and served as a talking point for the cannabis industry and its advocates, despite caveats from the authors and others to exercise caution when using ecological correlations to draw causal, individual-level conclusions. 

In this study, we used the same methods to extend Bachhuber et al.’s analysis through 2017.  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.  We also uncovered no evidence that either broader (recreational) or more restrictive (low-tetrahydrocannabinol) cannabis laws were associated with changes in opioid overdose mortality.   We find it unlikely that medical cannabis — used by about 2.5% of the US population — has exerted large conflicting effects on opioid overdose mortality.  A more plausible interpretation is that this association is spurious.  Moreover, if such relationships do exist, they cannot be rigorously discerned with aggregate data.  Research into therapeutic potential of cannabis should continue, but the claim that enacting medical cannabis laws will reduce opioid overdose death should be met with skepticism.

Some discussion of this research appears in these popular press pieces, among others:

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/marijuana_law/2019/06/new-research-raises-questions-as-to-relationship-between-medical-marijuana-reform-and-opioid-overdos.html

Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink

Comments

Post a comment

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

20 − fifteen =