A number of recent studies suggest that replacing traditional painkillers with medical marijuana would help combat the opioid crisis, but new research says we can't be sure of that just yet.
A group of Australian researchers recently performed a meta-analysis of 25 studies evaluating how access to legal medical marijuana impacted the opioid crisis in the US. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the researchers found that in states with medical marijuana programs, deaths related to opioid abuse aren't increasing as quickly as in states where patients don't have access to legal medical marijuana.
"In ecological studies, states that allow medical cannabis laws have reported a slower rate of increase in opioid overdose deaths compared with states without such laws," the review stated. "These differences have increased over time and persisted after controlling for state sociodemographic characteristics and use of prescription monitoring programs."
However, while the evidence suggests legal access to medical marijuana may reduce opioid-related deaths, the current data isn't strong enough to say that medical marijuana legalization is the cause of reduced opioid overdoses. The researchers suggest clinical studies should be conducted that look at whether opioid patients reduce their use of painkillers when given cannabis as well.
"At this point the findings are not conclusive, and clear evidence of causality is lacking…well-conducted clinical studies are needed to measure any opioid-sparing effects of cannabis, and to assess the prevalence of any adverse or unintended effects of using cannabinoids."
Pouring cold water on recent research might sound like a big step back for medical marijuana. But the fact that researchers are willing to seriously consider marijuana as a weapon to use again the opioid epidemic is actually a big step forward for cannabis science. Hopefully those additional studies get underway shortly, because if cannabis can reduce opioid-related deaths, then patients across the country can't get it soon enough.
H/T: Marijuana Moment