Legal Marijuana

New Study: Adult-Use Cannabis Availability Reduces Opioid Deaths

A study found that opioid deaths were reduced by more than 20% in areas with legal cannabis.
New Study: Adult-Use Cannabis Availability Reduces Opioid Deaths
Image credit: gradyreese | Getty Images
This story originally appeared on Benzinga

Researchers from the University of Massachusetts and Colorado State University released a new study on the impact recreational marijuana laws have on opioid-induced deaths. The study links the availability of adult-use cannabis to a decrease in deaths by opioid overdose. The study found that opioid deaths were reduced by more than 20% in states where adult-use cannabis is available.

Why It's Important

Opioids were responsible for 67.8% of all drug overdose deaths in 2017, accounting for 47,600 deaths in total, according to the study, which was published Aug. 6 in the Economic Inquiry journal. Cannabis has been presented by many as a safer alternative to opioids and an important tool in the opioid epidemic. Cannabis’ potential role in mitigating the opioid crisis has not yet been conclusively confirmed, meaning that new research studies are crucial to prove or disprove cannabis’ capacity to help overcome the opioid epidemic.

Prior Research 

2014 study made headlines by drawing a correlation between the availability of medical marijuana and a decrease in opioid deaths. The study analyzed the rate at which opioid deaths fell in states with medical marijuana laws between 1999 and 2010 and linked the cause to cannabis’ availability as a replacement treatment.

Yet a study released in January 2019 revealed that, when continuing to analyze data through 2017 with the same approach, the results were inconclusive. The study found that opioid deaths actually increased in those same states through the 2010s. The study released in January did not rule out a role for cannabis in fighting the opioid crisis, but merely disproved the efficacy of the earlier study's approach. 

New Data

The study published last week in Economic Inquiry was conducted by economists Nathan Chan, Jesse Burkhardt and Matthew Flyr. They compiled data on recreational cannabis consumption and availability.

"We find that access to recreational marijuana reduces opioid mortality in the range of 20%–35%," according to the study. 

While the study did not identify a specific mechanism that explains the new results, the researchs speculated that the numbers are being achieved by the substitution of one drug for another. Indirect causes for the reduction in opioid mortality in areas where recreational marijuana is available could include an improvement in economic conditions in areas where cannabis is legal, according to the study. 

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