Cannabis Legalization Leads to Decline of Opioid Related ER Visits

05 August 2021
New research into post-legalization opioid use dynamics debunks the myth that cannabis is a ‘gateway drug’
05 August 2021
2 min read
Cannabis Legalization Leads to Decline of Opioid Related ER Visits

A recent study has found that in the states that have legalized adult use of cannabis there is a significant decline in the number of emergency room visits related to opioids. Although the effect seems to be short-lived—with numbers returning to the baseline after six months—it is most welcome news for the country ravaged by opioid deaths. The findings also debunk the gateway drug theory — a myth that cannabis should not be legalized because it makes users switch to harder narcotics.

The Effect is Most Pronounced in Men and 25 to 44 Year Olds

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health who conducted the analysis say that they saw an especially sharp decrease in opioid-related ER visits in two groups: males and those aged 25 to 44.

To come to their conclusions, they analyzed data from 29 states in the US over the period of 6 years—between 2011 and 2017. During this time frame, the states of California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada passed recreational marijuana laws so that the scientists could compare them with those states where cannabis use by adults is still prohibited.

In all four states, there was a 7.6 percent reduction in ER visits related to opioid use in the first six month after the law went into effect.

Any Means of Stopping Opioid Overdose Epidemic is Welcome

The growing availability of prescription opioid drugs in the United States has caused a severe health crisis that many call epidemics. Thus between June 2019 and May 2020 more than 81,000 overdose deaths were registered by CDC.

Facts like this are often cited by the opponents of cannabis legalization who still regard the substance as a gateway drug and express concern that it can make the opioid abuse problem even worse. The recent study questions this view and suggests that recreational marijuana can actually help with the crisis.

Scientists are still unclear about the reasons cannabis is associated with the apparent decline in opioid use. One possible mechanism is that patients who use opioids for pain relief switch to medical marijuana, if only temporarily.

Be it as it may, medical professionals hail the downturn in opioid-related emergency room visits in the states that have legalized cannabis as a welcome public health development.


This content is for educational purposes only. The information provided is derived from research gathered from external sources.