Article by German Lopez, Vox
“The secret history of the heroin crisis,” Don Winslow writes at Esquire, is rooted in marijuana legalization.
The evidence actually suggests the opposite of Winslow’s claim: If laxer laws around marijuana had any effect, it was to weaken the opioid epidemic — and therefore cut down on the number of overdose deaths.
The idea: Medical marijuana is an effective painkiller for some patients, according to a review of the research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. That means pot can potentially substitute for the type of opioid painkillers that have led to the current overdose epidemic. And since marijuana doesn’t cause deadly overdoses, is less addictive than opioids, and isn’t linked to heroin use like painkillers are, replacing some use of opioids with pot could prevent some overdose deaths.
Several studies have backed up the idea. A 2015 study from David Powell and Rosalie Pacula of the RAND Corporation and Mireille Jacobson of the University of California Irvine looked at the effect of allowing medical marijuana dispensaries on opioid misuse and deaths. Powell and Pacula concluded, “Our findings suggest that providing broader access to medical marijuana may have the potential benefit of reducing abuse of highly addictive painkillers.”
A 2014 study published in JAMA found that medical marijuana legalization laws cut opioid overdose deaths, although it was less rigorous than Pacula and Jacobson’s analysis. And a 2016 survey from the University of Michigan found that chronic pain patients who used marijuana reported a 64 percent drop in opioid use.
So legalization didn’t cause the opioid epidemic, but it could help weaken its worst effects.