Listen: Medical Canabis
Study Shows Medical Cannabis Legalization Leads to Decrease in Nonmedical Opioid Use, Rutgers Researchers Find
• A recent study conducted by Rutgers University has revealed that medical cannabis legalization is associated with a decrease in the rate of nonmedical prescription opioid use.
• Lead author of the study, Hillary Samples, noted that while there may be benefits to legalizing marijuana for addressing opioid-related issues, more effective interventions such as increasing access to opioid addiction treatment should be prioritized.
• The findings suggest that individuals may be turning to cannabis as a substitute for opioids, but the decrease in opioid use is only modest and among high-risk cannabis users.
• Future studies should aim to determine the effects of medical cannabis legalization amidst the widespread opioid addiction crisis and if there is an increase in cannabis use disorder.
• Researchers emphasize that policymakers should consider potential trade-offs when evaluating different approaches to address opioid-related issues.
A recent study conducted by Rutgers University has found that the legalization of medical cannabis is associated with a reduction in the use of nonmedical prescription opioids. The study, published in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, analyzed data from a nationally representative survey of adults who reported using prescription opioids without a prescription or in a manner not prescribed.
The findings revealed that when states implement medical cannabis laws, there is a notable decline of 0.5 to 1.5 percentage points in the rate of regular to frequent nonmedical prescription opioid use among individuals who reported using opioids in the previous year. However, this decrease was primarily observed in individuals who met the diagnostic criteria for cannabis addiction.
Lead author of the study, Hillary Samples, emphasized that while there may be benefits to legalizing marijuana for addressing opioid-related issues, it is crucial to consider both the pros and cons. While cannabis may offer relief for pain and symptoms of opioid withdrawal, Samples states that more effective interventions, such as increasing access to opioid addiction treatment, should be prioritized in addressing the ongoing overdose crisis.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a rise of over 14 percent in drug overdose deaths in the United States from 2020 to 2021. To gain insights into mitigating this crisis, researchers have explored whether cannabis could serve as a substitute for opioid use.
Given the mixed findings on the relationship between medical cannabis legalization and opioid use, Samples and her team sought to contribute to the existing evidence. The results suggest that individuals may be turning to cannabis as a substitute for opioids, but the decrease in opioid use is modest and primarily among high-risk cannabis users. The study researchers stress the importance of investing in opioid addiction treatment.
Future studies should aim to determine the significance of the reductions in nonmedical opioid use amidst the widespread opioid addiction crisis and whether there is a concurrent increase in cannabis use disorder.
In conclusion, policymakers should carefully evaluate the overall evidence regarding different approaches to address opioid-related issues and consider potential trade-offs according to Samples.
The study’s coauthors include researchers from the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and the University of Arizona.
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