A newly published study of more than 15 years of data reveals the legalization of cannabis in Colorado is associated with a reduction in opioid deaths.
In the two years following recreational legalization, opioid-related deaths in Colorado decreased by more than 6%, according to the study’s authors—Melvin D. Livingston, Tracey E. Barnett, Chris Delcher and Alexander C. Wagenaar.
The reduction in opioid-related deaths represents a complete reversal of the trend prior to legalization of recreational cannabis.
This exciting research, published in the American Journal of Public Health and made available online just last week, may actually seem like old news at a casual glance. After all, haven’t we already talked about the role medical marijuana can play in preventing and combating opioid addiction?
While previous studies focused on the effect of medical marijuana on the opioid crisis, this new research attempts to isolate the effect of legal recreational cannabis.
Building on Medical Marijuana Studies
Studies have already been conducted to review the impact of legal medical marijuana on opioid use, abuse, and addiction. States with medical cannabis saw a 25 percent reduction in lethal prescription overdoses and saved over $100 million in medical costs.
Part of the improvement can be attributed to a reduction in the number of patients being prescribed opiates. Medical marijuana has been effective in relieving many of the same types of chronic pain often treated with prescription opiates, giving patients an alternative with lower risk of addiction or serious overdose.
This new research seems to support the idea that marijuana—even among some recreational users—is being used in lieu of more dangerous prescription opiates.
How Did the Study Isolate Recreational Marijuana
In order to focus solely on the impact of recreational marijuana legalization, researchers controlled for medical marijuana and other legal changes—such as how prescription drugs are monitored.
To factor out the effect of medical marijuana, the rates of opioid-related deaths in Colorado after cannabis legalization were compared to Nevada, where recreational marijuana was still illegal.
The researchers also had to control for the effects of a 2014 policy change that required all opioid prescribers in Colorado to register with the state’s prescription-drug-monitoring program.
Of course, the details and methods used to collect and analyze data are a bit more complex than I’ve made them out here. And, the authors of the study are curious to see if data in other states that have recently legalized recreational marijuana shows a similar reduction in opioid-related deaths.
Why Does This Matter?
Cannabis research remains woefully limited. We need more data about the benefits of medical marijuana and the effects of legalization on individuals and communities. And, while this study is relatively small in scale (focusing on just one state), it has revealed a positive trend and added more evidence for possible medical applications of cannabis that could save thousands of lives.
Karing Kind is Boulder’s First Recreational Marijuana Dispensary
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Karing Kind is located just off of US-36, one mile north of Broadway, open daily from 9am to 10pm.
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