Study: Retail Cannabis Sales Associated With Fewer Opioid Deaths

Fort Worth, TX: Retail cannabis distribution in Colorado is associated with a reduction in opioid-related mortality, according to data published online ahead of print in The American Journal of Public Health.

A team of investigators from the University of North Texas School of Public Health, the University of Florida, and Emory University compared changes in the prevalence of monthly opioid-related deaths before and after Colorado retailers began selling cannabis to adults. Researchers compared Colorado’s data with trends in neighboring states (that had not implemented any change in marijuana’s legal status), and also sought to control for recent changes in the state’s prescription drug monitoring program.

Authors reported a 6.5 percent decrease in monthly opioid deaths following retail cannabis sales. They wrote: “Colorado’s legalization of recreational cannabis sales and use resulted in a 0.7 deaths per month reduction in opioid-related deaths. This reduction represents a reversal of the upward trend in opioid-related deaths in Colorado.”

Authors concluded, “Legalization of cannabis in Colorado was associated with short-term reductions in opioid-related deaths.”

Their data is consistent with prior studies finding that cannabis access is associated with reductions in prescription drug spending, opioid-related hospitalizations, and opioid-related fatalities.

For more information, contact Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director, at Full text of the study, “Recreational cannabis legalization and opioid-related deaths in Colorado, 2000-2015,” appears in The American Journal of Public Health.