New data continues to support the idea that legal cannabis access leads to fewer opioid-related deaths

A recent study reflects a growing body of information that suggests that cannabis access contributes to a reduction in opioid-related deaths.

Esteban Lopez / Unsplash


A recent study reflects a growing body of information that suggests that cannabis access contributes to a reduction in opioid-related deaths.

Researchers from the University of North Texas, University of Florida, and Emory University found that opioid-related deaths fell by 6.5 percent in the two years following the state of Colorado’s decision to legalize recreational marijuana. Published in the November edition of the American Journal of Public Health, their work looked at opioid-related deaths in the state over a period of 15 years, between 2000 and 2015.

Before recreational cannabis was legalized in the state in 2014, Colorado was experiencing an upward trend of opioid-related deaths. Authors write that the reduction in deaths ‘represents a reversal’ of that trend, but that further research must be conducted to replicate the data in other states with legal recreational cannabis.

While the study looks at the impacts of recreational cannabis legalization, previous research has examined the impacts of medical cannabis.

A study published in the April edition of the journal, Drug and Alcohol Dependence, researchers found that in states where medical cannabis is legal, hospital visits for dependence or abuse dropped by 23 percent, while visits for overdoses dropped by 11 percent.

A study from a survey of Canadian medical cannabis patients authored by a team of scientists led by Philippe Lucas found that 80 percent used cannabis as a replacement for prescription drugs.

While cannabis substitution is certainly a hot topic among researchers and scientists, it’s also an idea being put into play by frontline workers and activists in the Downtown Eastside, where two different organizations are currently offering residents affordable alternatives to hard drugs, like edibles and joints.

“If you can provide a cheap medicinal option, like one of these muffins for $2 instead of crack or cocaine, there’s a lot of people down here who will take it because it gives them enough of a body high to hold off on other drugs for a while,” High Hopes Foundation co-founder Sarah Blythe told the Straight back in July.

High Sobriety takes cannabis substitution to the next level. At the unique treatment centre in Los Angeles, traditional abstinence models are eschewed for a framework that permits residents to use cannabis as part of their treatment.

The centre’s clinical advisor, Dr. Amanda Reiman, recently told the Straight that while the idea of using cannabis as part of one’s recovery may seem counter-intuitive to some, the idea of using it as a substitution is ‘really old”.

“If we were basing this on public health research and smart policy, we would see cannabis be available in every treatment centre,” she said.

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