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article imageNew Study: Marijuana legalization reduces opioid deaths

By Karen Graham     Aug 8, 2019 in Health
States that legalize recreational marijuana see a reduction of at least 20 percent in fatalities linked to opioid overdoses, according to a study published Wednesday that is likely to be welcomed by the cannabis industry.
The new Economic Inquiry study, published on August 6, 2019, documents how the changing legal status of marijuana has impacted mortality in the United States over the past two decades.
The researchers found that with the legalization of recreational marijuana, opioid deaths annually were reduced 20 to 35 percent - " with particularly pronounced effects for synthetic opioids," according to the study, reports Science Daily.
By comparing the rates of opioid overdose deaths prior to and after legalization, the authors found what they are calling a "causal effect that we identify is highly robust" in opioid mortality reduction, reports AFP.
"As you know, the opioid epidemic has been surging in recent years," lead author Nathan Chan, an economist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, told AFP. "So what that means is that everyone's affected, it's just that these states that have legalized are not as adversely affected as those that haven't."
Legalization, in and of itself is not what produces the gains. It is the states that have legal access to dispensaries that accounted for the largest reduction in mortality rates, Chan and his colleagues Jesse Burkhardt and Matthew Flyr at Colorado State University wrote.
Chan also suggested that a growing number of people may also be self-medicating and "dealing with pain through marijuana use, and therefore they're less likely to take on addictive opioids."
Interestingly, other studies, primarily authored by doctors and not economists -show a completely different result: cannabis use increases, rather than decreases non-medical prescription opioid use. Chan says the previous studies by doctors failed to adequately differentiate between a positive correlation and causation, an important distinction to uncover given that certain drug users gravitate toward multiple drugs.
"Our findings are especially important and timely given the scale of the opioid crisis in the United States and simultaneously evolving attitudes and regulations on marijuana use," write the authors.
More about opioid deaths, Marijuana, marijuana legalization, reduction in deaths, economic Inquiry study
 
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