A new study offers some of the strongest data yet to support using medical marijuana to curb the opioid epidemic.
Past research has proven that states with medical marijuana programs have reduced rates of opioid abuse. However, a new study shows that the effect of medical marijuana on opioid-related deaths is even more prominent on a county-by-county basis. The results are clear: counties that are home to cannabis dispensaries see a six to eight percent reduction of deaths by opioid overdoses and a 10 percent reduction of deaths caused by heroin overdoses.
"Importantly, these effects are limited to counties where dispensaries opened and do not apply to non-dispensary counties in states with that have legalized medical cannabis," the researchers wrote. So "while legalizing medical cannabis is not associated with lower levels of opioid overdose mortality, the presence of dispensaries has a large negative impact on the number of opioid-related deaths."
For the study, researchers analyzed statistics on opioid overdoses between 2009 and 2015 in states with medical marijuana programs. Then they compared the rate of death between counties that had dispensaries and those that did not. The data showed that only counties with cannabis dispensaries witnessed the benefits of medical marijuana.
So legalizing medical marijuana isn't enough to fight the opioid epidemic. States also need to set up enough dispensaries so that patients can actually acquire cannabis within a reasonable distance from where they live.