Cannabis advocates have long called for allowing people to treat pain with marijuana rather than opioids, and a new study shows that there is a significant reduction in deaths from opioid overdoses in the US when people have the freedom to choose between the two.
The study, published in the British Medical Association Journal, found that opioid-related deaths declined in US counties where both medical and recreational cannabis is available for purchase. The study underscores the importance of addressing the question of how opioid use and abuse are shaped by related drug markets. Although the documented association cannot be considered causal, it suggests an increased prevalence of cannabis use in reducing opioid-related mortality rates, "the researchers wrote. While the decline was seen in all types of opioids, including prescription painkillers, a significant percentage of deaths associated with synthetic opioids.
The study was conducted by researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The researchers sifted through data from 23 states where laws allow the legal sale of cannabis and examined opioid-related mortality rates. They used data on deaths associated with opioid use and the number of pharmacies in each county, as well as deaths from other causes such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, and suicide. Researchers from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the University of California, San Francisco examined deaths related to opioid use and cannabis use in counties with more than 1,000 dispensaries and found that the more dispensaries a county had, the lower the mortality rate, regardless of whether they increased from one to two, or whether they increased from two to three, or from three to one.