Cannabis dispensaries linked to nearly 30% drop in opioid deaths: study

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There’s growing evidence that cannabis could help curtail opioid-related addiction and death.

The latest findings are in a study published in the British Medical Journal, which shows a 17% reduction in opioid deaths between 2014 and 2018 in regions with at least one cannabis dispensary, and a fall by 21% when the number of shops in the area increased from one to two. Add a third dispensary, and the rate fell by an additional 8.5%.

Opioids — such as morphine, fentanyl and the illegal drug heroin — killed more than 67,000 people who overdosed in the United States in 2018, according to the most recent data available by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Meanwhile, an estimated 10 million people are thought to misuse prescription-based opioids alone, including oxycodone and hydrocodone, the new paper points out.

Fentanyl, which has become increasingly problematic since its introduction to the medical drug market in 1959, was responsible for more than 46,000 deaths in 2018 — two-thirds of the total confirmed opioid deaths that year.

Researchers at Yale and the University of California, Davis, based their results on data from 812 counties in 23 states with medical or cannabis dispensaries, at least since 2017, combined with state and county-level data on opioid deaths.

The more dispensaries a county had, the fewer opioid deaths they suffered, researchers found.

In their report, study authors Greta Hsu and Balázs Kovács urged “a greater understanding of the impact of cannabis legalization on opioid misuse and public health outcomes before policymakers can weigh the potential benefits against the harms of promoting cannabis legalization.”

However, they stop short of promoting cannabis shops as a means to address rampant opioid addiction, adding that “such conclusions are currently premature without evidence of causality.”

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