Legalized Marijuana Could Help Curb the Opioid Epidemic, Study Finds

Article by Reuters, NBC News

Legalized Marijuana Could Help Curb the Opioid Epidemic, Study Finds

In states that legalized medical marijuana, U.S. hospitals failed to see a predicted influx of pot smokers, but in an unexpected twist, they treated far fewer opioid users, a new study shows.

Hospitalization rates for opioid painkiller dependence and abuse dropped on average 23 percent in states after marijuana was permitted for medicinal purposes, the analysis found. Hospitalization rates for opioid overdoses dropped 13 percent on average.

At the same time, fears that legalization of medical marijuana would lead to an uptick in cannabis-related hospitalizations proved unfounded, according to the report in Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

“Instead, medical marijuana laws may have reduced hospitalizations related to opioid pain relievers,” said study author Yuyan Shi, a public health professor at the University of California, San Diego.

“This study and a few others provided some evidence regarding the potential positive benefits of legalizing marijuana to reduce opioid use and abuse, but they are still preliminary,” she said in an email.

Dr. Esther Choo, a professor of emergency medicine at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, was intrigued by the study’s suggestion that access to cannabis might reduce opioid misuse.

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