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We’ve all heard it – medical marijuana is the cure to the opioid crisis,  the solution to opioid addiction that we’ve all been waiting for.  Some studies have shown that medical marijuana means lowered levels of opioid overdose deaths.  Other studies have shown that medical marijuana, in fact leads to higher rates of opioid doses.  What’s the truth?

A new study by the RAND Corporation, the most detailed examination of medical marijuana and the correlation with opioid deaths to date, found that medical marijuana was associated with lower levels of opioid deaths ONLY in states that had looser restrictions on medical marijuana and did not allow marijuana home grow.  Additionally, the correlation between medical marijuana and fewer opioids-related deaths, while more apparent pre-2010, fell sharply after 2010 as the nature of the opioid crisis shifted from prescription opioids to more use of heroin and fentanyl.

After 2013, the association between having medical marijuana and lower rates of opioid deaths completely disappeared.  The study also found no evidence that states with medical marijuana have lower rates of opioid distribution from doctors.

Rosalie Liccardo Pacula, co-author of the study and co-director of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center, stated,

“….medical marijuana, by itself, will not be the solution to the nation’s opioid crisis today… While our study finds that medical marijuana dispensaries reduce some of the harms associated with the misuse of opioids,  there is little evidence that this is happening because a large number of patients suffering from pain are using marijuana instead of opioid medications. Either the patients are continuing to use their opioid pain medications in addition to marijuana, or this patient group represents a smalls hare of the overall medical opioid using population.”

One thing is clear – the link between opioid deaths and medical marijuana is tenuous, and research has shown a variety of data either linking the two or severing them.  However, medical marijuana appears to not be the end-all solution to the opioid crisis that some people were hoping for.

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