Significant drop in opioid deaths in Colorado since stores started legally selling recreational marijuana, study finds

Significant drop in opioid deaths in Colorado since stores started legally selling recreational marijuana, study finds

Opioid overdose deaths have fallen by 6.5 percent since 2014 in Colorado.

This is the first time the state has seen a decrease in these deaths in 14 years.

Colorado stores were first able to sell recreational weed legally in 2014, two years after the state passed Amendment 64.

This is the first study to show a connection between lower numbers of opioid deaths and recreational weed.

Opioid overdose deaths in Colorado fell by more than six percent after stores started legally selling recreational marijuana, a new study shows.

Prior to the last two years, Colorado was on a 14-year upswing in opioid overdose deaths.

The University of North Texas Health Science Center study is the first to show an association between legal recreational marijuana and lower numbers of opioid overdoses.

This most recent study is one of several over the past few years showing a correlation between lower numbers of opioid deaths and marijuana’s legal status.

As the US as a whole struggles to make any traction against the opioid epidemic, some point the growing body of research like this study linking legal marijuana use with fewer opioid overdoses, while others argue that substituting dope for dope won’t do.

Weed was legalized for recreational use in Colorado in 2012, but it wasn’t until 2014 that stores were actually able to start selling it there.

Since 2014, opioid-related deaths in Colorado are down 6.5 percent, the first time in 14 years that the trend has been ‘reversed’ there.

Colorado passed Amendment 64 in November 2012, at the same time that Washington state passed similar legislature. The two share the honor of being the first states to legalize cannabis for recreational use.

Opioid overdose deaths in Colorado fell by more than six percent after stores started legally selling recreational marijuana, a new study shows.

Now, a total of 29 states have laws permitting the use of marijuana, and seven in total allow their citizens to use it recreationally.

Since 2012, the opioid epidemic has only risen at a steeper pitch. There was a slight decline between 2011 and 2012, followed by a nine percent increase in 2013. In 2014, the rate of opioid deaths doubled, claiming the lives of 15,559 people.

Opioid deaths in Colorado climbed over the past 14 years, according to data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment published by Westword, a Denver magazine.

In 2016, the state finally saw the epidemic slowing. The estimated number of opioid overdose deaths fell by about six percent, the only ‘reversal’ in the upward trend, according to the researchers.

States highlighted red saw statistically significant increases in opioid deaths in 2015 over 2014, according to data from the CDC. Notably, Colorado did not see an increase, but Washington state and Maine, where weed can also be sold for recreational use, both did.

Marijuana is now legal in 29 states. In seven states, shown in lighter teal, it is legal for recreational use. A new study shows a link between legal recreational use of marijuana in Colorado and lower rates of opioid overdose deaths there for the first time.


The researchers looked at opioid overdose data beginning in 2014, the first year that Colorado stores were able to legally sell recreational marijuana after it was legalized two years before.

The 6.5 percent drop in Colorado opioid deaths in the last two years comes as the US epidemic continues to become only more severe.

According to the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention’s (CDC) most recent data, published in August, more than 64,000 people died from opioid overdoses in 2016, a 21 percent increase over 2015.

Previous research has highlighted the correlation between lower numbers of opioid deaths in states where marijuana is legal to use medically. A widely cited study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2014 found that states where weed was legal had about a quarter as many opioid overdose deaths as other states.

There has never been a report of an overdose death related to cannabis alone, but it remains federally classified as a schedule I drug, meaning that in the government’s eyes, it has no viable medical uses.

Study co-author Dr Melvin Livingston calls the study’s findings ‘an apparent public health benefit,’ but also cautions that it doesn’t contemplate other effects of legalizing weeds. ‘Expanded legalized cannabis use may also be associated with significant harms,’ he told Daily Mail Online in an email.

A University of California, Berkeley and Kent State University study published in June found that the vast majority – 93 percent – of patients preferred cannabis over opioids for treating pain.

Legal weed has also been a business boon for Colorado, and in May, the state government signed a bill into law that will allocate a portion of the state’s tax income from weed to opioid addiction treatment centers in counties where they are most needed.

Although Nevada began legally selling recreational marijuana around the same time that Colorado did, there isn’t sufficient data yet from it or other states to analyse whether or not Colorado’s positive outcomes are part of a larger trend.

However, states with the strictest marijuana laws, like Arizona, are not faring well in their fights against the opioid epidemic.

In Arizona, for example, possession of any amount of marijuana is a felony. In 2016, the state hit its record number of opioid deaths, rising 16 percent over the previous year’s numbers.

In Florida, possession of an ounce or less of weed can get you up to five years in prison. The CDC’s data shows that the crisis is still getting worse in Florida. The state saw 22 percent more deaths from opioid overdoses in Florida in 2015 than in 2014.


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