In the Journals

Marijuana legalization may reduce opioid-related deaths

The legalization of marijuana, especially for recreational use, was associated with significant reductions in opioid-related mortality, according to study results published in Economic Inquiry.

“Around the same time that states began adopting [recreation marijuana laws], there has been a nationwide surge in drug addiction and mortality, especially stemming from abuse of opiates,” Nathan W. Chan, PhD, assistant professor in the department of resource economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and colleagues wrote.

“In light of these disturbing trends, growing access to marijuana may offer some relief,” they continued.

To determine if marijuana legalization influenced opioid-related mortality, researchers reviewed mortality data from the CDC between 1999 and 2017, state marijuana laws, and census data.

In addition to determining overall opioid-related mortality rates, researchers evaluated opioid-related mortality in states that did not legalize marijuana, states that legalized medical marijuana and in states that legalized both medical and recreational marijuana.

Jars of cannabis 
The legalization of marijuana, especially for recreational use, was associated with significant reductions in opioid-related mortality, according to study results published in Economic Inquiry.
Source: Adobe Stock

Placebo tests were performed on deaths related to heart disease and septicemia, which were considered unrelated to marijuana use. Researchers used placebos to determine if marijuana laws had a direct impact on opioid-related mortality, or if other factors such as increased health care spending were responsible for changes in opioid-related mortality.

Across the groups, opioid-related mortality ranged from 4.82 to 8.03 deaths per 100,000 residents. Of those, 4.1 to 6.1 deaths per 100,000 attributed to prescription opioids and 0.85 to 0.99 deaths per 100,000 people were caused by synthetic opioids.

Chan and colleagues found that access to recreational marijuana significantly reduced opioid-related mortality, particularly when accessed through dispensaries. When recreational marijuana was accessible through a dispensary, the rate of all opioid-related mortality dropped 21% and the rate of synthetic opioid-related death dropped 33%.

When applied to the 47,600 deaths (14.9 per 100,000 people) attributed to opioids in the United States in 2017, a reduction of 21% would save almost 10,000 lives each year (3.1 per 100,000 people).

The placebo tests found that the rates of deaths from heart disease and septicemia were unaffected by marijuana access laws, suggesting that the changes in opioid-related mortality were impacted by marijuana access rather than other trends in health care during the study period.

Researchers noted that their results are directly relevant to opioid policies, as they imply that expanded access to marijuana reduces opioid mortality.

“States with legal access to marijuana were far less affected by the opioid mortality boom of the past decade than those without,” Chan and colleagues wrote. “Thus, our work provides important food for thought for state and federal authorities that continue to mull medical and/or recreational legalization of marijuana.”– by Erin Michael

Disclosures: Healio Primary Care was unable to confirm relevant financial disclosures prior to publication.

The legalization of marijuana, especially for recreational use, was associated with significant reductions in opioid-related mortality, according to study results published in Economic Inquiry.

“Around the same time that states began adopting [recreation marijuana laws], there has been a nationwide surge in drug addiction and mortality, especially stemming from abuse of opiates,” Nathan W. Chan, PhD, assistant professor in the department of resource economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and colleagues wrote.

“In light of these disturbing trends, growing access to marijuana may offer some relief,” they continued.

To determine if marijuana legalization influenced opioid-related mortality, researchers reviewed mortality data from the CDC between 1999 and 2017, state marijuana laws, and census data.

In addition to determining overall opioid-related mortality rates, researchers evaluated opioid-related mortality in states that did not legalize marijuana, states that legalized medical marijuana and in states that legalized both medical and recreational marijuana.

Jars of cannabis 
The legalization of marijuana, especially for recreational use, was associated with significant reductions in opioid-related mortality, according to study results published in Economic Inquiry.
Source: Adobe Stock

Placebo tests were performed on deaths related to heart disease and septicemia, which were considered unrelated to marijuana use. Researchers used placebos to determine if marijuana laws had a direct impact on opioid-related mortality, or if other factors such as increased health care spending were responsible for changes in opioid-related mortality.

Across the groups, opioid-related mortality ranged from 4.82 to 8.03 deaths per 100,000 residents. Of those, 4.1 to 6.1 deaths per 100,000 attributed to prescription opioids and 0.85 to 0.99 deaths per 100,000 people were caused by synthetic opioids.

Chan and colleagues found that access to recreational marijuana significantly reduced opioid-related mortality, particularly when accessed through dispensaries. When recreational marijuana was accessible through a dispensary, the rate of all opioid-related mortality dropped 21% and the rate of synthetic opioid-related death dropped 33%.

When applied to the 47,600 deaths (14.9 per 100,000 people) attributed to opioids in the United States in 2017, a reduction of 21% would save almost 10,000 lives each year (3.1 per 100,000 people).

The placebo tests found that the rates of deaths from heart disease and septicemia were unaffected by marijuana access laws, suggesting that the changes in opioid-related mortality were impacted by marijuana access rather than other trends in health care during the study period.

Researchers noted that their results are directly relevant to opioid policies, as they imply that expanded access to marijuana reduces opioid mortality.

“States with legal access to marijuana were far less affected by the opioid mortality boom of the past decade than those without,” Chan and colleagues wrote. “Thus, our work provides important food for thought for state and federal authorities that continue to mull medical and/or recreational legalization of marijuana.”– by Erin Michael

Disclosures: Healio Primary Care was unable to confirm relevant financial disclosures prior to publication.

    See more from Opioid Resource Center