Marijuana legalization could reduce opioid deaths, new study shows

In a new study, researchers found that marijuana access leads to reductions in opioid-related deaths.

The research was conducted by a team from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Opioid deaths in the United States have risen at a dramatic pace since the 1990s, due in large part to the increasing prevalence of synthetic opioids.

Recreational marijuana laws affect a much larger population than medical marijuana laws, yet we know relatively little about their effects.

The current study examined how the changing legal status of marijuana has impacted mortality in the United States over the past two decades.

The team focused on the causal effect of medical marijuana laws and recreational marijuana laws on opioid mortality.

They found that legalization and access to recreational marijuana could reduce annual opioid mortality in the range of 20% to 35%, with particularly pronounced effects for synthetic opioids.

This means that marijuana legalization causes a significant decline in opioid mortality—especially deaths from synthetic opioids.

The research extends prior findings that medical marijuana laws reduce opioid mortality rates.

The findings are timely given the scale of the opioid epidemic in the United States and growing calls for marijuana legalization throughout North America.

The results show that there are health benefits to marijuana legalization, and they offer important food for thought as many states continue to contemplate expansions to both medical and recreational marijuana access.

The study offers one of the first econometric analyses of recreational marijuana legalization.

The lead author of the study is Nathan W. Chan from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

The study is published in Economic Inquiry.

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