One of many distinguished arguments in favor of medical marijuana has been that it might assist fight the opioid epidemic by giving medical doctors a substitute for opioids for treating ache. Some analysis supported the declare, indicating that states with authorized medicinal marijuana had seen fewer opioid overdose deaths than states with out authorized medical hashish.

However a brand new research has known as this argument and the analysis supporting it into query.

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Earlier research, significantly a extensively cited 2014 research, discovered a correlation on the state degree between the legalization of medical hashish and fewer overdose deaths. That line of analysis indicated that medical marijuana could result in a discount in overdoses, below the speculation that folks may use hashish to deal with ache somewhat than opioids. Some state lawmakers embraced the research, citing them to legalize medical pot or enable medical marijuana to assist deal with opioid dependancy.

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However a brand new research, which makes use of the identical methodology and knowledge because the 2014 research that kicked off this line of analysis, discovered the pattern has reversed: Medical marijuana is now correlated with extra opioid overdose deaths. The brand new research, printed in PNAS, discovered that medical marijuana was correlated with fewer opioid overdose deaths from 1999 to 2010. However utilizing newer knowledge as much as 2017, the research discovered that states with medical marijuana legal guidelines truly noticed extra opioid overdose deaths.

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A chart gauging the correlation between medical marijuana laws and opioid overdose deaths.

A chart gauging the correlation between medical marijuana legal guidelines and opioid overdose deaths.

The researchers argue that the correlation is spurious — suggesting that there’s no broad, generalizable connection between medical marijuana and opioid overdose deaths, and the beforehand discovered hyperlink was probably a coincidence.

“We, the authors, assume it’s a mistake to have a look at that and say, ‘Oh, hashish was saving folks 10 years in the past and it’s killing folks now,” Chelsea Leigh Shover, the lead creator of the research, instructed me. “We predict a extra probably interpretation is that passing medical hashish legal guidelines simply just isn’t affecting opioid deaths on the inhabitants degree.”

The research additionally checked out whether or not extra expansive medical marijuana legal guidelines and leisure marijuana legalization have been linked to fewer opioid overdose deaths, discovering that even laxer legal guidelines weren’t tightly correlated with overdoses both.

Marijuana reform “ought to nonetheless completely be thought of, however it doesn’t look like decreasing opioid overdoses on the inhabitants degree is one in all [its effects],” Shover mentioned.

Shover labored with the lead creator of the unique 2014 research to ensure her research’s fashions and knowledge have been the identical. That basically made this newer research a replication of the unique — one which contradicted the earlier findings.

“For those who consider the primary research, it’s a must to consider ours,” Shover mentioned. “It’s the identical strategies and the identical knowledge.”

Extra analysis is required on this space, and extra analysis is prone to come. However for now, the brand new research means that medical marijuana’s potential function in preventing the opioid epidemic has been overhyped.

We’ve got loads of proof for different approaches to the opioid epidemic

Shover argued that her analysis suggests policymakers ought to look to different approaches to tackling the opioid epidemic, as an alternative of counting on the hype round medical marijuana.

As specialists have lengthy mentioned, there isn’t any silver bullet that may remedy the opioid epidemic in a single day, however there’s a mixture of insurance policies that will surely assist an incredible deal: elevated entry to remedy (significantly medicines like methadone and buprenorphine), extra hurt discount (reminiscent of distribution of the opioid overdose antidote naloxone), fewer painkiller prescriptions (whereas making certain the medicine stay out there to those that actually need them), and insurance policies that tackle the foundation causes of dependancy (like psychological well being points and socioeconomic despair). Underlying all these approaches is a necessity to scale back the stigma round dependancy, too.

These approaches have much more proof to assist them than medical marijuana ever did. Research have constantly discovered, for instance, that medicines like buprenorphine and methadone cut back the mortality fee amongst opioid dependancy sufferers by half or extra and maintain folks in remedy higher than non-medication approaches. It’s why the medicines are thought of the gold normal of look after opioid use dysfunction by specialists.

But remedy stays inaccessible within the US. Federal knowledge suggests one in 10 folks with any substance use dysfunction and one in 5 folks with an opioid use dysfunction get specialty remedy. Even when an dependancy remedy clinic is on the market, fewer than half of services provide any of the opioid dependancy medicines. In different phrases, remedy is inaccessible sufficient that most individuals who want it don’t get it, and even when remedy is on the market, it doesn’t meet the perfect requirements of care.

To handle that, policymakers will probably must dedicate extra sources to remedy and the opioid epidemic total. However meaning wanting past medical marijuana to different options.

“I actually want it labored,” Shover mentioned, referencing medical marijuana and the opioid disaster. “But it surely’s not. So I’m within the unpopular place of claiming this doesn’t appear to be working, so we should always deal with some stuff that we’ve proof for and discovering new issues that may [work].”

For extra on fight the opioid epidemic, learn Vox’s explainer.


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