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Cannabis shows promise in battle against opioid addiction

For years we have been told that marijuana is a gateway drug to the harder stuff like heroin. Lately we have seen heroin deaths skyrocket. Is there a link between Oregon’s legalization of marijuana and the rampant increase of heroin use?

— Larry S., Jacksonville

Just the opposite may be true, Larry.

According to several recent studies, states that provide access to marijuana are seeing lower opioid addiction and overdose rates than states that continue to take a hard line toward the herb.

In a new study published this year in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers found that opiate-related deaths decreased by approximately 33 percent in 13 states in the six years after medical marijuana was legalized.

“The striking implication is that medical marijuana laws, when implemented, may represent a promising approach for stemming runaway rates of nonintentional opioid-analgesic-related deaths,” wrote opiate abuse researchers Dr. Mark S. Brown and Marie J. Hayes in a commentary published alongside the study.

About two months ago, Pennsylvania became the first state to approve medical marijuana as a treatment for opioid use disorder. Doctors with the required credentials can offer medical marijuana to patients when treatments such as abstinence therapy or medication-assisted treatment have failed, or in conjunction with those methods.

Nobody seems to be saying that cannabis use alone can cure opioid addiction. But in states that allow medical marijuana, fewer people may turn to opiates in the first place, the studies suggest. And when people suffering from opioid addiction are undergoing treatment, use of medical cannabis may help with the pain of withdrawal and give other therapies a better chance of success.

Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@rosebudmedia.com. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.