US researchers have found evidence that the legalisation of medicinal and recreational cannabis can help reduce deaths from opioid use.
The team from the University of California and Yale University used data from 812 counties in the 23 US states that allowed legal cannabis dispensaries to operate by the end of 2017.
After factoring in population characteristics and other variables, they found counties with a higher number of cannabis dispensaries were associated with reduced opioid-related deaths.
An increase from one cannabis store to two in a county was associated with an estimated 17% reduction in all opioid-related mortality rates.
This findings were even stronger for deaths associated with synthetic opioids like fentanyl, rather than methadone, with an estimated 21% reduction in deaths.
Meanwhile increasing from two to three stores was associated with a further 8.5% reduction.
In light of the findings, the researchers called for “a greater understanding of the impact of cannabis legalisation on opioid misuse and public health outcomes before policymakers can weigh the potential benefits against the harms of promoting cannabis legalisation”.
They added further research is needed to draw solid conclusions and “inform a more nuanced understanding of the substitution between opioids and cannabis”.
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