SPOKANE, Wash. -- Over the past 20 years the number of opioid overdoses have tripled in the United States. Overdoses are now the second leading cause of accidental deaths.

There is no doubt heath care professionals are working hard to find ways to get people through treatment programs successfully to decrease that number. This includes WSU researchers in Spokane.

About a year ago researchers at WSU's College of Nursing set out to find out if marijuana is helping or hurting those being treated for opioid addiction.

Marian Wilson has been a nurse for 20 years and she is an assistant professor at WSU's College of Nursing. Her focus has been on chronic pain and opioid use and abuse.

“We need to do better to try to help and speak for the patients that can't speak for themselves,” said Wilson.

One way she wants to do that is by trying to find ways for those addicted to opioids to deal with their withdrawal symptoms. And some in the medical community have wondered if marijuana could curb those symptoms.

"I was interested in finding out how they were using cannabis to manage their symptoms because we heard there were people that were using it and finding some benefit from it," Wilson explained.

A year ago, Dr. Wilson and her research team began to test this theory in Spokane. They sent out written surveys to those in area opioid treatment programs. They asked about 150 people if they used marijuana, how often they used it and if it helped with their symptoms. She said more than two thirds of people surveyed were using marijuana regularly. Wilson and her team found using cannabis could be making it harder for patients to handle their symptoms, as opposed to making them feel better.

“Seeing a tight connection between mood and pain was something of interest to us, because it suggested that cannabis may not really be helping with that cluster of symptoms," Wilson said.

Wilson said despite the results of her study there is still a lot of research on the topic that still has be done.