According to a new study published in the International Journal of Drug Policy and first reported on by NORML, the enactment of medical cannabis access legislation is associated with lower rates of self-reported opioid use.
For the study, titled The effect of cannabis laws on opioid use, researchers affiliated with Florida International University in Miami assessed the relationship between medical cannabis legalization and self-reported opioid use and misuse.
The study states: “[S]urvey respondents living in states with medical cannabis legislation are much less apt to report using opioid analgesics than [are] people living in states without such laws,” even after controlling for potential confounding variables. They also determined that medicalization did not promote any increase in opioid misuse.
Researchers conclude that: “[T]he present study found that in MML (medical marijuana legalization) states some displacement is occurring away from opioids toward medicinal cannabis. … [M]edicinal cannabis may be one avenue to combat the consequences of the opioid epidemic without amplifying, beyond perhaps recreational cannabis, further illicit drug use. The association between cannabis and opioid use, however, demands further empirical scrutiny to establish causal order amidst less restrictive environments toward cannabis.”
“The findings are similar to correlations identified in several prior observational studies but are inconsistent with the conclusions of a paper published earlier this year which failed to identify a long-term association between medical cannabis access and opioid-related mortality”, states a NORML press release.
The study’s full abstract states:
Many Americans rely on opioids at varying dosages to help ameliorate their suffering. However, empirical evidence is mounting that opioids are ineffective at controlling non-cancer related chronic pain, and many argue the strategies meant to relieve patient suffering are contributing to the growing opioid epidemic. Concurrently, several states now allow the use of medical cannabis to treat a variety of medical conditions, including chronic pain. Needing more exploration is the impact of cannabis laws on general opioid reliance and whether chronic pain sufferers are opting to use cannabis medicinally instead of opioids.
This study investigates the effect of Medical Marijuana Laws (MML)s on opioid use and misuse controlling for a number of relevant factors using data from several years of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health and multivariate logistic regression and longitudinal analysis strategies.
Results provide evidence that MMLs may be effective at reducing opioid reliance as survey respondents living in states with medical cannabis legislation are much less apt to report using opioid analgesics than people living in states without such laws, net other factors. Results further indicate that the presence of medicinal cannabis legislation appears to have no influence over opioid misuse.
MMLs may ultimately serve to attenuate the consequences of opioid overreliance.