A new study revealed that legal cannabis dispensaries may lower the rates of opioid-related deaths in some U.S counties. Though the study can’t show that the dispensaries were directly responsible for the lower opioid-related deaths. But it found that U.S. counties with legal cannabis dispensaries had lower rates of opioid-related deaths.
The study analyzed opioid-related deaths between 2014 and 2018. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a total of 46,802 people died of an opioid overdose in the United States last year. Two-thirds of these deaths were due to synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. The recent COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the opioid crisis in the United States. CDC report says that synthetic opioid deaths increasing more than 38 percent from June 2019 to May 2020. So, the data used for this study is already several years old.
For this study, researchers analyzed data from 812 U.S. counties within 23 states. These states are allowing legal cannabis dispensaries by the end of 2017. Researchers combined this with data on opioid-related deaths in those counties.
Assistant professor Chelsea Shover said that the strength of the study is that the researchers examined the data at the more fine-grained county level. She said, “[The study] can’t tell us at an individual level whether people who use cannabis are using fewer opioids, not starting opioids, or not dying from opioids”. Shover also said, “If you were to do the same study with current data, you’d find something different because of the way both opioid deaths and cannabis dispensaries have shifted since then”.
However, more rigorous cannabis research is needed to find a causal relationship between legal cannabis usages and opioid-related deaths.