Cannabis Access Laws Associated With Fewer Opioid Prescriptions

TUSCALOOSA, AL — The enactment of laws legalizing the use of marijuana for either medical or recreational purposes is associated with reduced rates of prescription opioid use and with a reduction of the total number of days for which opioids are prescribed, according to a working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Investigators at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee and at the University of Alabama assessed the relationship between cannabis access laws and the amount of individual prescriptions filled by patients at outpatient pharmacies between the years 2011 and 2017.

Authors reported: “[R]ecreational and medical cannabis access laws reduce the number of morphine milligram equivalents prescribed each year by 6.9 and 6.1 percent, respectively. These laws also reduce the total days supply of opioids prescribed [and] the total number of patients receiving opioids.”

They concluded: “While cannabis may be a gateway drug that encourages use of opioids in some patients, on balance for the population generally both recreational and medical marijuana laws decrease opioid use. Thus, the passage of an RCL (recreational cannabis laws) or MCL (medical cannabis laws) may be a valid policy option for combating the ongoing opioid epidemic, even if these laws were not originally conceived for that purpose.”

The study’s findings are consistent with those of dozens of prior papers reporting that cannabis access is associated with reduced levels of opioid-related use, abuse, hospitalizations, and mortality.

Full text of the study, “The impact of cannabis access laws on opioid prescribing,” is available online. NORML’s fact-sheet, “Relationship between marijuana and opioids,” is online.

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