A new study published in the American Journal of Public Health claims the decrease of opioid-related deaths in Colorado is directly linked to the legalization of recreational marijuana back in 2014.
According to the authors, Melvin D. Livingston, Tracey E. Barnett, Chris Delcher and Alexander C. Wagenaar, "After Colorado’s legalization of recreational cannabis sale and use, opioid-related deaths decreased more than 6% in the following 2 years. This reduction represents a reversal of the upward trend in opioid-related deaths in Colorado."
The conversation about marijuana's effect on opioid-related deaths isn't new; it is often credited as a safer alternative to prescription opioids, which have been causing a mass epidemic of lethal overdoses. However, this is the first report that examines the impact of recreational rather than just medical weed laws.
According to the Cannabist, the study was conducted by examining "trends in monthly opiate overdose fatalities in Colorado before and after the state's recreational marijuana market opened in 2014."
The specific data on recreational marijuana was drawn by comparing Colorado to Nevada, which allowed only medical weed during the same period. Researchers also made sure to take into consideration Colorado's prescription-drug-monitoring program. After all that, their results came out to show a 6.5% decrease in opioid-related deaths in the following two years after recreational weed was legalized.
To all the naysayers – study authors agree their work is preliminary and hope it will be backed up by similar research from other states with approved recreational marijuana, such as Washington and Oregon. They will also continue to examine the numbers over the coming years to better understand how the trend progresses.