Calling BS on Marijuana Research + Video on Effects of Marijuana Legalization in Colorado

Politicizing Research?

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.”

Not quite.

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.

2 replies
  1. Ben James
    Ben James says:

    EVERY 9 MINUTES in the USA a child is admitted to a hospital emergency room for pharmaceutical drug poisoning for a total of over 58,000 kids per year. Unfortunately thousands of these children never go home again.

    104 US CITIZENS ARE KILLED PER DAY from overdose of opium-based pharmaceuticals. Use of legal pharmaceutical opioids like Percocet, Fentanyl, Oxycodone, Percodan are proven to be a direct GATEWAY to heroin use. From the CDC.gov: Prescription drugs are directly responsible for over 237,000 deaths yearly in the US plus over 5,000 traffic deaths due to pharmaceutical intoxicated drivers.

    284 US CITIZENS ARE KILLED PER DAY due to alcohol consumption. Booze is a direct GATEWAY to alcoholism, homelessness, street violence, domestic violence, murder, traffic fatalities, teen pregnancies and death. Over 88,000 people die every year in our nation due to alcohol consumption plus 16,000 more in traffic fatalities directly caused by booze intoxicated drivers.

    1315 US CITIZENS ARE KILLED PER DAY BY TOBACCO SMOKE. Tobacco is highly addictive and kills over 480,000 Americans every year.

    Cannabis has still never killed one single person in all medical history due to toxic overdose. No matter how much cannabis is consumed (even an entire bag of edibles) it is never fatal due to overdose. Not one police agency in the United States even keeps a statistic for fatal auto accidents caused solely by cannabis intoxication.

    So, which is safer???? Legalize, regulate and TAX!

    Reply
    • Dr. Rich Swier
      Dr. Rich Swier says:

      Ben,

      You statement is not true. Politifact states this about marijuana deaths:

      The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration drug sheet for marijuana reports that no deaths from marijuana overdose have ever been recorded.

      However, marijuana has played an indirect role in fatalities. Experts that we talked with agreed that the drug itself doesn’t cause major acute health problems and is far safer than other medications. However, they said that it can still dangerously inhibit someone’s ability to make safe decisions.

      Dr. Ryan Vandrey, a researcher at Johns Hopkins University who specializes in the behavioral effects of marijuana, stressed that looking only at deaths from direct overdoses is a narrow way of examining a drug’s health effects.

      “Too often individuals cite that individuals haven’t died from cannabis — I don’t think that’s true. It certainly can be argued that cannabis use has contributed to the deaths of individuals, such as due to impairment during driving,” he said.

      Dr. Jerome Avorn, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, told us, “The main risk from marijuana is from the risky or stupid things people do after using it, such as driving, rather than from any toxic effects of the substance itself, which is remarkably safe.”

      A 2013 literature review article noted that higher levels of THC in the blood are associated with substantial driving impairment and a higher risk of accidents, especially when combined with moderate alcohol consumption. However, the authors emphasized that more research needs to be done on the issue.

      Other accidental deaths involve marijuana users who seemingly became out of touch with reality and took reckless actions. A report from 2015 detailed the case of a 19-year-old male who jumped off a balcony after consuming multiple servings of a marijuana cookie. The study suggests that a high enough dose of THC can result in a greater risk of “adverse psychological effects.”

      In summary, it appears that marijuana doesn’t directly cause overdose deaths, but there are documented cases where it likely led to accidental fatalities.The exact number of marijuana-related deaths that occur annually is difficult to pin down.

      One more caveat: synthetic marijuana has been attributed to overdose deaths. However, the experts we talked with told us that these drugs have nothing to do with marijuana and are a completely different class of substances.

      Reply

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