Cannabis not 'answer to the opioid crisis'. But Opioids can kill you easily, cannabis can’t. It’s quite easy to die from opioids. It’s basically impossible to die from cannabis unless you’re overweight and you have acute cardiac problems and you’re...
Cannabis not 'answer to the opioid crisis'. But Opioids can kill you easily, cannabis can’t. It’s quite easy to die from opioids. It’s basically impossible to die from cannabis unless you’re overweight and you have acute cardiac problems and you’re inhaling a pound of shatter (the most powerful marijuana concentrate) or synthetic stuff.”
Cannabis not 'answer to the opioid crisis': CAMH senior scientist
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A senior scientist at Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), is encouraged by two recent U.S. studies showing liberal marijuana laws can help fight the opioid epidemic.
But Dr. Benedikt Fischer, also a University of Toronto psychiatry professor, cautions weed — about to become legal when used recreationally, in Canada — isn’t the absolute answer in the war on potentially deadly opioids.
“Everyone’s so desperate around the opioid crisis and there may be some effects,” said Fischer.
“(Results) are typically in the range between five to 10% reductions. At the same time, the effects are clearly limited and we must not think that this is now the panacea, solution or the answer for the opioid crisis. What happens with who, why? Is it pain patients? Is it recreational users? What are the mechanics? (These questions still need to be answered). Second of all, even if this is what’s going on, let’s not think that now, ‘Well, distribute cannabis in the tap water and it’ll protect us as of tomorrow from opioid-related harms.’ I’ve read a lot of scary headlines like, ‘Is cannabis the answer to the opioid crisis?’ I can assure you that it’s not.”
In the first study, University of Kentucky and Emory University researchers found passing medical and recreational marijuana laws saw Medicaid opiate prescriptions reduce by 5.88% and 6.38%, respectively, between 2011 and 2016.
In the second study, University of Georgia researchers found state medical marijuana laws caused an 8.5% reduction in the number of daily opioid prescriptions covered by Medicare Part D (the optional prescription drug benefit plan), between 2010-2015, relative to states without those same laws.
We caught up with Fischer to provide more insight.
What do you make of these studies?
“First of all, they are just the newest ones in a series of studies, there’s about a half-dozen now, over the last three to four years that have basically shown, in the U.S. exclusively, and that’s an unfortunate limitation.”
Why an ‘unfortunate limitation?’
“In Canada, as you know, we’ve had defacto legal cannabis and medical cannabis availability extensively in place for quite some time now. A lot of the effects that are being observed in the U.S. over the last years may already have been materializing here because we have that sort of broad legal availability for quite some time. For us to even begin to think that those kinds of effects might be happening here in Canada as well, we need Canadian data for this. These are quite different environments. We can not just transfer data from the U.S. and say, ‘Well, the same thing will happen here as well.’ We need empirical evidence for that. And there are organizations that are mandated to do this kind of stuff.”
Is there a positive message to be taken from all of this in the short-term?
“There’s one major effect that’s definitely at play here. Opioids can kill you easily, cannabis can’t. It’s quite easy to die from opioids. It’s basically impossible to die from cannabis unless you’re overweight and you have acute cardiac problems and you’re inhaling a pound of shatter (the most powerful marijuana concentrate) or synthetic stuff.”