New studies published this weekend say there is little support for claims that legalizing medical marijuana boosts recreational use by adolescents, but also say it’s not likely to significantly reduce opioid overdose deaths.
The two studies, published this weekend in the British scientific journal Addiction, may refute two common claims about legalizing medical marijuana, the first that it promotes wider use by teens who see it as legitimized and the second that marijuana could substitute as a pain relief medication for those who become addicted to opioids. Neither of those is likely, according to the study authors.
“Synthesis of the current evidence does not support the hypothesis that US medical marijuana laws until 2014 have led to increases in adolescent marijuana use prevalence,” the first study concluded.
“Although we found no significant effect on adolescent marijuana use, we may find that the situation changes as commercialized markets for medical marijuana develop and expand, and as states legalize recreational marijuana use,” the study’s senior author, Deborah Hasin, said. “However, for now, there appears to be no basis for the argument that legalising medical marijuana increases teens’ use of the drug.”
Several members of the journal’s editorial board also wrote on a review of research of whether there is enough risk to suggest that cannabis could serve as a good alternative to opioids for pain management.
That link also doesn’t appear to be strong, the editors wrote.
“Although … studies show a correlation over time between the passage of medical marijuana laws and opioid overdose death rates, they do not provide any evidence that the laws caused the reduction in deaths,” the journal said. “In fact, several recent studies have shown that chronic pain patients who use cannabis do not use lower doses of opioids. There are more plausible reasons for the reduction in opioid deaths that ought to be investigated.”
Further, the researchers wrote, “No studies so far … have controlled for the effects of several policies that are likely to affect opioid overdose deaths for the better or worse. The former includes increased access to methadone- and buprenorphine-assisted treatment for opioid dependence, both of which are likely to reduce overdose risk. The latter includes public policies that are likely to increase overdose deaths; namely, increased imprisonment of opioid users because their risk of overdose death increases dramatically after they leave prison.