Counties with a greater number of cannabis dispensary storefronts experience reduced numbers of opioid-related deaths relative to other locales, a recent UC Davis study has found.
The study is the first of its kind to examine the association between active cannabis dispensary operations — both medical and recreational — and opioid-related mortality rates at the county level, suggesting that providing alternative pain management could improve public health outcomes, researchers said.
“While the associations documented cannot be assumed to be causal, they suggest a potential relationship between increased prevalence of medical and recreational cannabis dispensaries and reduced opioid-related mortality rates,” said lead study author and professor of management at the UC Davis Graduate School of Management Greta Hsu.
The study was published Wednesday in the British Medical Journal. The article was co-authored by Balazs Kovacs of Yale University.
“Given the alarming rise in the U.S.’s fentanyl-based market and in deaths involving fentanyl and its analogs in recent years, the question of how legal cannabis availability relates to opioid-related deaths can be regarded as a particularly pressing one,” researchers stated
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — the source for researchers’ opioid data — opioids were involved in 46,802 overdose deaths in 2018, accounting for nearly 70% of all drug overdose deaths.
“Overall, greater understanding the public health outcomes of cannabis legalization on opioid misuse is needed for policymakers to properly weigh the potential benefits versus harms of promoting cannabis legalization,” Hsu said.
Significant death rate from synthetic opioids
“As the spread of COVID-19 has overtaken global health resources and attention, another health crisis appears to be silently raging in the background: increasing opioid-related overdose deaths,” Hsu said.
According to Hsu, reports from public health tracking systems such as the University of Michigan’s System for Opioid Overdose Surveillance