More Access to Cannabis Associated With Fewer Opioid Deaths

A lot has been written about the intersection of cannabis and opioids. Most notably, many believe that cannabis can be used as an alternative to opioids to treat certain types of pain, particularly neuropathic pain. While cannabis does have adverse effects and those who use cannabis can become addicted and go through withdrawal upon cessation, the hazards associated with cannabis use are far less severe than their counterparts with respect to opioids.


The opioid crisis has been, and continues to be, a major problem throughout the United States with an estimated 81,000 drug overdose deaths attributed to opioids between May 2019 and May 2020. Many cannabis advocates have long postulated that increasing patient access to cannabis could reduce opioid use and overdose deaths.


This theory appears to have merit. A paper published in the BMJ by Balázs Kovács, PhD, of Yale University School of Management and Greta Hsu, PhD, of University of California Davis Graduate School of Management showed a strong relationship between cannabis stores and opioid mortalities. Their study showed a negative correlation between the log transformed number of cannabis stores within a county and the number of opioid-related overdoses within the same area. The team looked at 812 counties across 23 states between 2014-2018.


According to the authors’ estimate, “An increase from one to two storefront dispensaries in a county is associated with an estimated 17% reduction in all opioid related mortality rates. Dispensary count has a particularly strong negative association with deaths caused by synthetic opioids other than methadone (β=−0.21, 95% confidence interval −0.27 to −0.14), with an estimated 21% reduction in mortality rates associated with an increase from one to two dispensaries. Similar associations were found for medical versus recreational storefront dispensary counts on synthetic (non-methadone) opioid related mortality rates.”


Read the full paper here.

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