Studies: Cannabis Access Associated with Fewer Opioid Overdoses

Amherst, MA: Legal access to cannabis is associated with a reduction in opioid-related fatalities, according to a pair of studies published in the journal Economic Inquiry.

In the first paper, researchers associated with the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and Colorado State University assessed the relationship between the passage of statewide marijuana legalization laws and opioid overdose fatalities. They reported that the passage of recreational marijuana laws is associated with an estimated reduction in annual opioid mortality "in the range of 20 to 35 percent, with particularly pronounced effects for synthetic cannabinoids."

The second paper, authored by a faculty member at the University at Arkansas at Little Rock, assessed the relationship between dispensary openings and opioid-related harms. The author reported, "[C]ounty‐level prescription opioid‐related fatalities decline by 11 percent following the opening a dispensary."

The papers’ findings are similar to those of several prior observational studies. By contrast, data published in June in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported that these trends were not sustainable over time.

For more information, see the NORML fact-sheet, "Relationship Between Marijuana and Opioids."