According to a recent study published by The BMJ journal, access to legal cannabis dispensaries has been linked to a reduction in opioid-related deaths in the U.S.
To consider the supply side of drug markets and how that shapes opioid use and misuse, University of California, Davis professors Greta Hsu and Balázs Kovács, examined the relationship between legal dispensaries and opioid-related deaths between the years 2014 and 2018.
More Cannabis Dispensaries, Less Overdoses
Researchers conducted an analysis of data from 812 counties within 23 legal states (as of 2017) using CDC mortality rates, census data, and storefront information from Weedmaps.
Their analysis found that counties with higher counts of cannabis dispensaries are associated with reduced opioid-related mortality rates. Particularly in regards to deaths associated with synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.
“We tracked evolving cannabis markets across the U.S. from 2014 onwards in an effort to understand how this new category of organizations emerged,” Kovács told here. “We realized, however, that our county-level database could also be used to examine whether the availability of legal cannabis in an increasing number of geographic areas has any implications for opioid misuse.”
According to the data, increasing a county’s cannabis dispensary count from one to two resulted in an estimated 17% decrease in opioid-related deaths.
“We find this relationship holds for both medical dispensaries, which serve only patients who have a state-approved medical card or doctor’s recommendation, as well as for recreational dispensaries, which sell to adults 21 years and older,” Kovács continued.
The association was particularly strong in regards to deaths associated with synthetic opioids other than methadone. In fact, data revealed an estimated 21% reduction in mortality rates in counties that opened a second dispensary.
Additionally, once counties introduced a third dispensary, opioid-related deaths dropped by another 8.5%.
The Findings are Observational
The association between cannabis dispensaries and reduced opioid-related deaths is certainly promising. However, this was the first study to observe such phenomena at the county level, and these results are only observational.
While the researchers found a link between more dispensaries and less opioid deaths, more studies are needed to determine if the dispensaries are responsible for the reduction.
“At the same time, cannabis’ potential harms for adolescent’s cognitive development, medical conditions such as schizophrenia, and public safety risks should not be ignored,” Hsu noted to here.