Opioid Distribution Significantly Drops After Recreational Marijuana Legalization

Following their findings, researchers suggest access to recreational cannabis could lead to reduced rates of opioid addiction and opioid overdoses.

To better understand the impact of legal access to recreational marijuana on pain medication use, a team of researchers examined Colorado’s data on pain medication distribution. They discovered that since Colorado legalized recreational cannabis in 2012, the state has seen a nearly 12 percent reduction in painkiller distribution.

The study’s results prompted researchers to conclude that cannabis could be a viable alternative treatment for chronic pain and reduce opioid use.

“If there is an initial reduction in opioid distributions in states with recreational marijuana laws, it is conceivable that opioid misuse, addiction, and overdose deaths could also fall,” the study’s authors wrote.

Colorado is one of 11 states where recreational marijuana is legal.

To conduct the investigation, a research team collaboration between Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine and the University of New England analyzed data from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The team looked at pain medication distribution trends in Colorado, and for comparison looked at two additional states, Utah and Maryland, where residents do not have access to recreational cannabis.

Researchers focused on the distribution trends of nine pain medications, including oxycodone, fentanyl, morphine, hydrocodone, and codeine. The team also looked at two medications used for opioid use disorder, methadone and buprenorphine. All information examined was from 2007- 2017.

The results showed that when compared to Utah and Maryland, Colorado experienced a larger decrease in opioid distribution after recreational legalization. Oxycodone and methadone were the two narcotics distributed the most in all three states, according to the study’s findings. Researchers found that Maryland had the highest number of total pharmaceuticals distributed during the study period.

In conclusion, the team of researchers called on health care providers and lawmakers to consider studying alternative options such as cannabis as a deterrent for the nation’s opioid crisis.

“There should also be a national level push for uniformity of marijuana policies under U.S. federal law to at least allow for proper, concrete research on the overall health effects,” they wrote.

The full study titled, “Prescription Opioid Distribution After the Legalization of Recreational Marijuana in Colorado, 2007-2017,” was published by BioRxiv in July and can be found here.

Colorado Taking Steps Towards Opioid Use Reduction

Colorado leaders are taking action to end the opioid crisis in their state. In May, Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed into law a bill giving doctors the authority to recommend medical marijuana for the same medical conditions that would prompt them to recommend painkillers.

Colorado has helped set a national standard for acknowledgment of marijuana as an alternative for narcotics. Medical marijuana has been legal there since 2001, and as of Feb. 2019, the state has 86,832 active patients in its medical marijuana program.

The state’s medical marijuana program allows for minors to participate with parental consent. Contrary to a common belief that marijuana legalization leads to an increase in use by teenagers, a new report showed that Colorado has not experienced an increase in reports of teen use since recreational marijuana became legal.

To take a closer look at the latest trends in Colorado post-legalization, check out our news report, Colorado After Legalization: Statistics And What They Mean.

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