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A study published in the journal Economic Inquiry found something truly remarking in the clinical psychology field. Researchers at the University of Massachusetts and Colorado State University concluded that the legalization of cannabis reduced opioid overdose deaths by 21%.

Roughly 47,600 people have died from opioids in 2017. That means about 14.9 per 100,000 people. If this were to reduce by 21%, then that means nearly 10,000 lives would be saved, or 3.1 lives per 100,000.

Similar Studies

This study can be added to the collection of others which aimed to expose the statistics of state laws that have legalized adult-use cannabis. Many of the bills that were passed expressed this possible outcome, that it could help with the opioid crisis. 

A famous study by JAMA posted on the NCBI in 2014 found a decrease of up to 25% in opioid deaths in states that had legal cannabis compared to those that do not.

A study posted in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that CBD, one of the many cannabinoids in cannabis, was effective in treating addiction as well, by preventing cue-induced cravings.

Research Method

The study started by examining the mortality rates from the CDC, Centers for Disease Control from 1999 to 2017. Researchers from Massachusetts and Colorado then cross examined that data against the legal history for each state. The variables included race, income, sex, age, unemployment rates as well as population. 

“Our results have direct relevance for policy,” the researchers noted, “as they indicate that recent expansions to marijuana access have significant co-benefits in the form of reduced opioid mortality.”

“States with legal access to marijuana were far less affected by the opioid mortality boom of the past decade than those without,” they added. “Thus, our work provides important food for thought for state and federal authorities that continue to mull medical and/or recreational legalization of marijuana.”

How Does it Reduce Deaths?

The good answer is that there are many ways! For starters, it’s important to establish how opioids are getting out of control in this country.

Opioids are mostly given to people through prescriptions for debilitating pain. While that part is common, so too is the extremely addictive qualities that arise from using them. This is ignoring similar opiates, such as heroin. The drugs that are prescribed are sometimes stronger than what’s needed, but is often given as a first method. Researchers argue that cannabis, a less addictive and less harmful substance could be a better approach in beating treatment that leads to addiction. 

Cannabis may help those that use opioids, use less than they need.

Addicts often have to use replacement therapy with methadone, and cannabis may help ease this transition as well.


It’s no secret that the state (and national) laws behind cannabis are becoming more open. Public support for it is rising and so too is the research behind it. This finding helps support previous studies and gives a clearer perspective behind the potential of legalizing.

The opioid crisis is still an epidemic in the US. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, roughly 21 to 29 percent of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them. 

Preventing that is key.

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