Cannabis is not just the safest intoxicant out there — it literally saves lives.
According to new research published in the American Journal of Public Health, legal cannabis in Colorado caused a “reversal” of the state’s opiate overdose deaths.
“After Colorado’s legalization of recreational cannabis sale and use, opioid-related deaths decreased more than six percent in the following two years,” wrote the study authors Melvin Livingston, Tracey Barnett, Chris Delcher, and Alexander Wagenaar. The study looks specifically at the two years of data since Colorado opened its first adult use cannabis dispensaries in 2014.
What’s specific about this study is that it looks not at the relationship between medical marijuana and opiate overdose deaths, but at adult use (recreational) marijuana and opiate overdose deaths.
It’s already well known that medical cannabis is a useful substitute for opioid medications for a number of pain-related ailments, in addition to other symptoms like insomnia, inflammation, or anxiety. But while it’s fairly easy in some states like Colorado or California to become a medical marijuana patient, legalizing adult use marijuana makes it even easier for someone to get their hands on cannabis. In this case, though someone may purchase cannabis for relaxation or recreational purposes, they may also be self-medicating and hence reducing their dependence on opioids.
In conducting the study, the researchers controlled for both medical marijuana and prescription-drug-monitoring change in order to look solely at the impact of adult use cannabis. They found that after Colorado’s legal adult use cannabis policy went into effect, opioid overdose deaths fell by 6.5 percent over the course of two years.
Following this study, it will be interesting to see if this trend applies in other marijuana legal states like Washington or Oregon, as well.
Whether opioid users are replacing their painkillers with cannabis, or merely cutting back with the help of cannabis, either option lends itself to safer drug use.
In fact, one study found that 97 percent of respondents said they could decrease their opioid use with cannabis: 80 percent said cannabis alone was more effective than taking opioids in conjunction with cannabis, while 92 percent said they preferred just cannabis. Increasing accessibility to cannabis makes it easier for pain patients to explore alternative treatments.