Study: Counties with marijuana dispensaries see fewer opioid deaths

Study: Counties with marijuana dispensaries see fewer opioid deaths

A new study looking at dispensary distribution in legal states says that just having a legal place to go and purchase marijuana might actually bring down opioid use (and associated overdose deaths). A few economics researchers looked at the locations of cannabis dispensaries in states like Colorado, Oregon, and California, and compared that distribution to opioid-related deaths. They found that in counties where marijuana dispensaries were located boasted 6-8% fewer opioid deaths, specifically among non-Hispanic white men. The researchers also found that heroin deaths actually declined by around 10% when a dispensary was opened.

Now, it’s hard to say that correlation means causality — just opening a dispensary in a county doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll automatically see a drop in deaths there. But the study does make sense — people who want access to a drug but don’t have a legal option to get it might turn to illicit drugs, or might use more dangerous drugs than cannabis. Opening a dispensary and allowing legal access to cannabis might fill that need for some, turning them away from heavier opioid use.

That’s quite a finding, especially considering that we’re in the middle of an opioid epidemic that’s killing 115 people a day in the US. If we can save some of those lives by spreading access to cannabis, even in states that have already approved it for medicinal or recreational use, someone who could overdose might go with a different option instead.

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