Is legalization of medical cannabis truly correlated with lower opioid use?

Many research studies have confirmed that legalizing medical marijuana definitely lowers the number of pain medication prescribed, but are those two events truly correlated?

A new study was published recently in the official journal of the American Society of Addiction Medicine which found that people who use medical marijuana actually have higher rates of medical and non-medical prescription drug use, including pain relievers.

The study was conducted by Theodore L. Caputi, BS of University College Cork’s School of Public Health and Keith Humphreys, Ph.D., of Stanford University.

Several previous studies have shown that introducing medical marijuana to an environment will somewhat reduce the number of opioid abuse in that environment, but now it may turn out that those two factors are not very correlated.

After more than 57,000 responses to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health have been analyzed, researchers focused on the specific 776 people who used medical marijuana — about 1.4 percent of all respondents.

According to the analysis of those 776 respondents, medical marijuana patients were more likely to abuse prescription drugs in the past year.

When compared to those who weren’t using medical marijuana, these 776 respondents were 60% more likely to report any prescription drug use.

In fact, medical marijuana patients were also more than twice as likely to report non-medical use of prescription drugs such as tranquilizers and pain relievers.

“Non-medical use of pain relievers is of particular interest because of pain relievers’ role in the opioid overdose epidemic,” Caputi and Humphreys said.”Our findings don’t prove a causal connection between marijuana and opioid use, but they do suggest physicians can use medical marijuana as a marker for high risk of non-medical prescription drug use.”

Medical marijuana patients in other studies have reported substituting cannabis for other prescription and illicit drugs, but further research will definitely be necessary to confirm the full effects of medical cannabis on opioid abuse.

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