Counties with more pot dispensaries have fewer opioid deaths

New research suggests, yet again, that legal cannabis could be an important tool to curb the deadly opioid epidemic.

In a study just published in the British Medical Journal, researchers from Yale University and the University of California, Davis found a reduction in opioid deaths that correlate with the number of nearby marijuana dispensaries.

812 U.S. counties across 23 states that allow legal cannabis were analyzed for the years 2014 to 2018. For regions with one dispensary, there was a 17% decline in opioid deaths. For regions with two cannabis dispensaries, the decline was 21%. Regions with three dispensaries saw an additional 8.5% decline.

“Higher medical and recreational storefront dispensary counts are associated with reduced opioid related death rates, particularly deaths associated with synthetic opioids such as fentanyl,” the researchers concluded. “While the associations documented cannot be assumed to be causal, they suggest a potential association between increased prevalence of medical and recreational cannabis dispensaries and reduced opioid related mortality rates. This study highlights the importance of considering the complex supply side of related drug markets and how this shapes opioid use and misuse.”

2020 was an especially challenging year for people with addiction. Deaths, isolation, and economic despair have pushed many users to the brink, while community spread has interrupted treatment options. More than 40 states have reported increases in opioid-related fatalities, according to the American Medical Association’s Advocacy Resource Center.