Study Debunks Claims of Marijuana Curing the Opioid Epidemic

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SAM’s Kevin Sabet, Ph.D. Courtesy of Smart Approaches to Marijuana

Five years ago, a study was released that looked at states that legalized “medical” marijuana between the years 1999 and 2010. The study purported that those states had a 25 percent lower rate of opioid deaths than states that did not legalize “medical” marijuana.

Right on cue, the marijuana industry and its proponents trumpeted this study as definitive proof that marijuana legalization would be the cure to the opioid epidemic.

Never mind the fact that this study suffered from ecological fallacies. That wasn’t important to the pot industry. They most likely even knew how shaky this study was, but they still ran with it like wildfire, putting it up on billboards and shouting it from the rooftops.

Fast forward to yesterday.

A new study took the same methodology of the previous study and expanded it to include states that legalized medical marijuana between 1999 and 2017 and found a surprising result: medical marijuana was associated with a 23% INCREASE in opioid deaths.

If you believed the results of the first study, it’s hard to argue that you don’t believe the results of the second one, since the methods are the same,” said Chelsea Shover, one of the authors of the new study.

The authors also said “We find it unlikely that medical marijuana-used by about 2.5% of the US population-has exerted large conflicting effects on opioid overdose mortality. A more plausible interpretation is that this association is spurious.”

If I were a betting person, I’d bet that we won’t hear a peep from the industry on this study. I’d bet we won’t see a single retraction of the numerous claims made by Big Marijuana that legalization can be the cure to the opioid epidemic, and I bet not a single Weedmaps billboard will be taken down.

To be sure, efforts to legalize marijuana are putting public health and safety at a huge risk. As this study goes to show, we have no clear idea whether or not there is any link between marijuana use and opioid deaths. But we do know that marijuana users are 2.6 times more likely to abuse prescription opioids.

As our Chief of Staff and Senior Policy Advisor, Luke Niforatos, said this weekend on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal: “Science must prevail. We must listen to our public health professionals and our scientists. The thing is with any public health issue, we have got to let science rule the day.”

About SAM

Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) is a nonpartisan, non-profit alliance of physicians, policy makers, prevention workers, treatment and recovery professionals, scientists, and other concerned citizens opposed to marijuana legalization who want health and scientific evidence to guide marijuana policies. SAM has affiliates in more than 30 states.

Evidence shows that marijuana – which has skyrocketed in average potency over the past decades –  is addictive and harmful to the human brain especially when used by adolescents. In states that have already legalized the drug, there has been an increase in drugged driving crashes, youth marijuana use, and costs that far outweigh pot revenues.These states have seen a black market that continues to thrive, a black market that continues to thrive, sustained disparities in marijuana arrest rates, and tobacco company investment in marijuana.

For more information about marijuana use and its effects, visit

Dr. Kevin Sabet, Ph.D., is a former three-time White House Office of National Drug Control Policy advisor, having been the only person appointed to that office by both a Republican (Administration of George W. Bush) and Democrat (Obama Administration and Clinton Administration). He is also an assistant professor adjunct at Yale University Medical School, a fellow at Yale’s Institution for Social and Policy Studies, the Director of the Drug Policy Institute, and a courtesy assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Florida.

With Patrick J. Kennedy, Sabet co-founded Smart Approaches to Marijuana in Denver in January 2013.

Sabet is the author of numerous articles and monographs including the book “Reefer Sanity: Seven Great Myths About Marijuana,” now in its second edition.

Sabet is the recipient of the Nils Bejerot Award given in conjunction with H.M. Queen Silvia of Sweden and was one of four Americans (along with Jonathan Caulkins, Bertha Madras, and Robert DuPont) invited by Pope Francis to the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences to discuss marijuana and other drug policy. He was invited to speak at the Allen and Co. Sun Valley Investor’s Conference in 2018.

Upon founding SAM, Salon called Sabet “the quarterback of the new anti-drug movement” and NBC News called him a “prodigy of drug politics”.


eHeziStudy Debunks Claims of Marijuana Curing the Opioid Epidemic

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