A slew of news articles flooded the print, broadcast, and internet media this week about two new studies published in Monday’s online issue of JAMA Internal Medicine.
One study found that states with medical marijuana laws are associated with reductions in Medicare Part D opioid prescriptions, compared to states that do not have such laws. The other found a similar association in states with both medical and recreational marijuana laws in the Medicaid population.
Lead author of the first study is David Bradford, PhD, at the School of Public and International Affairs of the University of Georgia. UGA sent out a press release promoting Dr. Bradford’s study with this title: “SPIA Professor Pens New Study: Legalized Medical Cannabis Lowers Opioid Use.”
Dr. Bradford’s study finds a correlation between states with medical marijuana laws and a reduction in opioid prescriptions, not use. And only in the Medicare Part D population, not the whole population. Dr. Bradford himself notes this when citing the study’s limitations in his journal article. Yet many of the news stories picked up his university’s headline.
And he pushed this misinformation along in interviews he gave to the press, telling the Cox Media Group, “’There are substantial reductions in opiate use’ in states that have initiated dispensaries for medical marijuana,” when in fact there are significant reductions in opioid prescriptions rather than use.
Dr. Bradford also tells his interviewers that the 2017 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS) review of the marijuana literature found “conclusive evidence that there are benefits to cannabis for chronic pain in adults, for nausea associated with chemotherapy, and for spasticity and seizures.” He doesn’t understand that all of the evidence for the last three conditions and most of it for chronic pain came from randomized controlled trials of purified cannabinoids rather the kinds of marijuana states have legalized for medical use.
He tells AP reporter Malcolm Ritter that the NAS report presents evidence that is “hard to ignore” and therefore federal laws should be changed to allow doctors to prescribe marijuana for pain treatment.
An accompanying editorial in the journal by two physicians not affiliated with these studies notes that other studies find legal marijuana increases opioid use. They warn than marijuana policy has gotten far ahead of marijuana science and we must remedy this quickly.
Perhaps people with chronic pain will get more relief from purified cannabinoids than opioids, but we won’t know that until randomized, controlled trials are conducted to find out if that’s true. At best, ecological studies like the two published this week can push us towards research, but certainly not policy.
Read “Association Between US State Medical Cannabis Laws and Opioid Prescribing in the Medicare Part D Population” here.
Read “Association of Medical and Adult-Use Marijuana Laws With Opioid Prescribing for Medicaid Enrollees” here.
Read “The Role of Cannabis Legalization in the Opioid Crisis” here.
Marijuana May Lead Nonsmokers to Cigarettes
A study from Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health finds that while cigarette smoking has been on the decline for many years, marijuana use is on the rise—and may end that decline.
The study found that marijuana use may
- Increase the initiation of smoking cigarettes among nonsmokers.
- Make it harder for smokers who also use marijuana to stop smoking cigarettes, and
- Make former smokers who use marijuana more likely to relapse to cigarette smoking.
These findings came from an analysis of data from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions in 2001-2002 and 2004-2005 via responses from 36,639 individuals asked about marijuana use and smoking. The effects occurred among all marijuana users, not just those with marijuana use disorders.
Read study here.
New Film on YouTube Shows Effects of Marijuana Legalization in Colorado
Curious about what marijuana legalization looks like in Colorado? View Marijuana Xhere. Filmmaker Michael De Leon has put his director’s cut on YouTube so that you can watch this movie free of charge.
To view, click picture or here.
EDITORS NOTE: The Marijuana Report is a weekly e-newsletter published by National Families in Action in partnership with SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana). Visit National Families in Action’s website, The Marijuana Report.Org, to learn more about the marijuana story unfolding across the nation. Subscribe to The Marijuana Report.