Study: legalizing medical cannabis does not reduce opioid overdose deaths

June 10th, 2019 by admin Leave a reply »

Amid the search for solutions to the opioid epidemic, which kills an estimated 130 Americans every day, some argue that increased access to cannabis could reduce this devastating toll. Part of their reasoning? A 2014 paper published in JAMA Internal Medicine reported lower opioid overdose death rates in states with medical marijuana laws.

A study published Monday in PNAS contradicts that widely cited paper, raising new questions about whether and how medical marijuana can affect the opioid crisis.

The 2014 study found that between 1999 and 2010, states with medical cannabis laws had a nearly 25% lower average rate of opioid overdose deaths than states without such laws. Much has changed since 2010 — 34 states have now legalized medical marijuana and the number of opioid overdose deaths was six times higher in 2017 than it was in 1999 — so Stanford University researchers decided to replicate the original study and expand its analysis to include seven more years of data.


When they limited their analyses to the same time period as the original study, they saw the same trend. But when they expanded the time frame through 2017, the association between medical marijuana laws and opioid overdose deaths reversed: States with medical marijuana laws had average rates of opioid overdose deaths that were nearly 23% higher than those without these laws.

Lead author Chelsea Shover, a postdoctoral research fellow in psychiatry at Stanford, said this apparent reversal is cause for

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