States that legalized marijuana may be linked to lower opioid deaths but far more studies need to be done to confirm it, said the director of the National Institutes of Health.
NIH Director Francis Collins said there has been a “statistical relationship” between states that legalized marijuana and lower opioid deaths. But, Collins told a Senate committee Thursday more research is needed to fully answer that toking up can help combat the opioid epidemic.
“This is a correlation, not a causation,” Collins said before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
An October study in the American Journal of Public Health found legalization of marijuana in Colorado resulted in a short-term reduction of opioid deaths from 2000 to 2015. Colorado legalized marijuana back in 2012.
Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., asked Collins about the role of marijuana in combating opioid addiction. He also asked about what the right age is for someone to start smoking pot due to its effects on adolescent brains.
“There has been at least one suggestion that legalization of marijuana should be restricted to those 25 and above,” he said.
Collins responded he has heard of studies where frequent marijuana use among adolescents can impact IQ points, but he declined to say what age is the best to start smoking.
Collins also said if Congress wants the NIH to shift resources to the National Institute on Drug Abuse then it needs direction from Congress.
Cassidy questioned why NIDA gets smaller funding than other institutes at NIH, especially since the opioid epidemic is killing so many Americans. Federal data estimates that 71 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.
“As the NIH director I don’t get to set those numbers,” Collins said. “We follow what the Congress tells us.”