Studies unclear on whether medical marijuana lowers opioid overdose rates

Studies unclear on whether medical marijuana lowers opioid overdose rates

States with medical cannabis laws experienced slower rates of increase in opioid analgesic overdose death rates compared to other states, according to a National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) study.

The study, conducted in 2019, was a repeat of a study conducted in 2014. That study found that opioid overdose mortality rates in states allowing medical marijuana were 21 percent lower than expected between 1999 and 2010.

When researchers extended their analysis through 2017, they discovered states with medical marijuana experienced overdose death rates 22.7 percent higher than expected.

“These data, therefore, do not support the interpretation that access to cannabis reduces opioid overdose,” NIDA said. “Indeed, the authors note that neither study provides evidence of a causal relationship between marijuana access and opioid overdose deaths. Rather, they suggest that the associations are likely due to factors the researchers did not measure, and they caution against drawing conclusions on an individual level from ecological (population-level) data. Research is still needed on the potential medical benefits of cannabis or cannabinoids.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved THC-based medications for certain AIDS and chemotherapy patients and CBD-based medications for patients with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, Dravet syndrome, and childhood epilepsy.

Other marijuana-based medications are undergoing clinical trials.