States that legalize recreational marijuana are experiencing a brief decline in opioid-related emergency room visits, a new study finds.
Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh analyzed emergency department data from 29 states between 2011 and 2017.
Four of the states included in the study passed recreational marijuana legalization during that time, and the team compared their rates of opioid-related visits to the others.
They found a 7.6 percent decrease in opioid-related emergency room visits in the six months after the law went into effect, although numbers returned to pre-legalization levels after that period.
Legalizing recreational marijuana could help fight the opioid epidemic. Researchers found that in the six months after legalization, hospitalizations for opioids fell by nearly 8%
Men aged 25 to 44 were the biggest beneficiaries of recreational marijuana legalization as opioid hospitalizations fell by nearly 12%
“This is not trivial — a decrease in opioid-related emergency room visits, even for just six months, is a welcome public health development,” said Dr. Coleman Drake, lead author of the study and assistant professor in the Pitt Public Health Department. of health policy and management.
“But that said, while cannabis liberalization may provide some help in curbing the opioid epidemic, it’s probably not a panacea.”
Men ages 25 to 44 were the group with the largest drop in hospital visits for opioid abuse, with 11.5 percent fewer visits in the six months after legalization.
In the time since then, many other states have legalized the drug, with 19 states containing about half of the country’s population legalizing recreational marijuana in one form or another.
The opioid epidemic has become a largely overlooked but ever-present problem in the United States.
More than 81,000 opioid-related deaths were recorded from June 2019 to May 2020, the highest number ever in a 12-month period.
Just the pandemic made the problem worse, with COVID-19 causing social isolation for some and disrupting addiction treatment programs — both contributing to the record number of deaths.
Some feared that the legalization of recreational marijuana would exacerbate the problem, as it would serve as a gateway to opioids.
However, this turned out not to be the case.
Instead, researchers believe it may be possible for some to replace opioids with marijuana.
While marijuana can’t solve the opioid epidemic, it can be a small part of a bigger solution.
Opioid abuse has become a major problem in the United States: 81,000 people died from overdose from June 2019 to May 2020
“We cannot definitively conclude from the data why these laws are associated with a temporary relapse in opioid-related emergency room visits, but based on our findings and previous literature, we suspect that people who use opioids for pain relief are replacing cannabis with cannabis. “At least temporarily,” Drake said.
“Cannabis may provide pain relief to individuals who use opioids, but cannabis is ultimately not a treatment for opioid use disorders.
“States can fight the opioid epidemic by expanding access to treatment for opioid use disorders and reducing opioid use with recreational cannabis laws. These policies are not mutually exclusive; rather they are both a step in the right direction.’
Opioid abuse usually begins with the misuse of prescription painkillers.
Many will begin their opioid dependence on legally obtained drugs through their doctor.
After depleting their legal supply, they will turn to illegal means such as buying pills on the black market or drugs like heroin or fentanyl to get their fix.
Many first responders, such as law enforcement officers, now carry Narcan — a drug that can relieve the effects of an overdose and save their life — to help combat the rising number of opioid deaths.