With several years of data it's clear that medical marijuana greatly reduces the amount of prescription opioid overdoses, but a new study is showing that recreational marijuana can also decrease prescription opioid deaths. Though only two years of data has been collected since Colorado's recreational marijuana shops opened in 2014, the decline in opioid abuse has been consistent with the implementation of legal cannabis. Adults are using cannabis to treat symptoms like pain which are often treated with prescription pain killers, but it seems more people are choosing cannabis over opioids, possibly for the lack of dependency that comes with using the plant. When controlling for medical marijuana's effects on the opioid crisis, the study found that in 2 years recreational cannabis reduced opioid deaths by 6.5%.
“After Colorado’s legalization of recreational cannabis sale and use, opioid-related deaths decreased more than 6% in the following 2 years,” write authors Melvin D. Livingston, Tracey E. Barnett, Chris Delcher and Alexander C. Wagenaar.
Marijuana is often highly effective at treating the same types of chronic pain that patients are often prescribed opiates for. Given the choice between marijuana and opiates, many patients appear to be opting for the former.
From a public health standpoint, this is a positive development, considering that relative to opiates, marijuana carries essentially zero risk of fatal overdose.