Opioid-Related Deaths Down in Colorado Since Legalization of Cannabis

A major new study published in the American Journal of Public Health indicates that opioid deaths in Colorado have dropped since the legalization of marijuana. “After Colorado’s legalization of recreational cannabis sale and use, opioid-related deaths decreased more than 6% in the following 2 years,” the study states. And while other studies have shown an association between medical marijuana use and a drop in opioid overdose deaths, this is the first to examine the relationship between recreational cannabis and opioid deaths.

The authors of the study are quick to point out that while the trend suggests a correlation between the legalization of marijuana and a decline in opioid-related deaths, it’s impossible, at least at this point, to determine whether legalization is the cause. Legalization is just too new, and there are numerous complicating factors involved.

Critics of the study point to reasons why they believe it to be too optimistic about this possible benefit of legalization. The wider distribution of the overdose-reversing drug naloxone could have played a role in the decline of opioid-related deaths, for one thing. They also note that while deaths from prescription opioids have gone down, deaths from heroin have risen, a fact not included in the study.

Since recreational cannabis was legalized in 2014, nearly one fewer person in Colorado has died per month of an opioid overdose. While it is too early, and perhaps too complicated, to absolutely correlate legalization with the decline in opioid-related deaths, it is a trend in the right direction, and one that The Green Solution® is happy to see.