Another day, another round of studies suggesting that legalizing marijuana can help mitigate the harms of the opioid epidemic.
This time, one study published last week in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence looked at how adult-use legalization impacted opioid prescriptions. And a separate recently published research paper explored how medical cannabis dispensaries affect opioid overdoses.
Both studies bode well for reform advocates who’ve argued that legal marijuana can serve as a safer alternative to prescription painkillers. Here’s what you need to know about each new paper:
1. Adult-use legalization is associated with a decrease in the number of prescriptions, total doses and spending on opioids among Medicaid enrollees.
Researchers examined prescription data for Medicaid enrollees from 2010 to 2017. The team found “no evidence to support the concern that recreational marijuana legalization increased opioid prescriptions received by Medicaid enrollees.”
Rather, implementing a fully legal cannabis system in 2015 was linked to a 32 percent decrease in the total number of opioid prescriptions, a 30 percent decrease in the number of doses and a 31 percent decrease in spending on Schedule III opioids.
2. Deaths from opioid and heroin overdoses are lower in counties where medical cannabis dispensaries operate.
Looking at mortality data from 2009 to 2015, researchers found that counties with medical cannabis dispensaries experienced significantly lower rates of opioid and heroin overdoses, compared to counties without dispensaries.
Specifically, the average mortality rate for any opioid overdose increased by .37 per 100,000 people in counties without dispensaries from 2009 to 2015, while it increased by .07 per 100,000 people in counties with dispensaries during the same time period. Prescription opioid mortality rates “increased by 0.05 in dispensary-counties and rose by .2 in non-dispensary counties,” according to the study.
Mortality rates associated with heroin overdoses increased by .61 per 100,000 people in counties with marijuana dispensaries, while increasing by nearly 1 per 100,000 in non-dispensary counties.
Both new studies come on the heels of yet another round of research on cannabis and opioids issues that came out earlier this month.