Recent studies suggest that medical marijuana could combat the opioid epidemic that killed over 49,000 Americans in 2016 alone. But an addiction specialist in Canada wants to pour a bong's worth of cold water on those findings.
"Is cannabis the answer to the opioid crisis? I can assure you it's not," Dr. Benedikt Fischer - a psychiatry professor at the University of Toronto - said while challenging the reliability of studies noting that opioid abuse is lower in states that have legalized marijuana.
Dr. Fischer stresses that hopes for cannabis as a panacea for opioid addiction are grounded in desperation rather than hard science.
"Everyone’s so desperate around the opioid crisis and there may be some [positive] effects," said Fischer. "[But results] are typically in the range between five to 10 percent reductions. At the same time, the effects are clearly limited and we must not think that this is now the panacea, solution or the answer for the opioid crisis. What happens with who, why? Is it pain patients? Is it recreational users? What are the mechanics? (These questions still need to be answered). Second of all, even if this is what’s going on, let’s not think that now, 'Well, distribute cannabis in the tap water and it’ll protect us as of tomorrow from opioid-related harms'."
Although he doesn't see cannabis as a cure-all for opioid addiction, Fischer did recognize that marijuana is much safer than prescription pills.
“Opioids can kill you easily, cannabis can’t," he told the Toronto Sun. "It’s quite easy to die from opioids. It’s basically impossible to die from cannabis unless you’re overweight and you have acute cardiac problems and you’re inhaling a pound of shatter or synthetic stuff.”
Fischer didn't comment on studies suggesting that medical marijuana could help wean addicts off opioids.