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Study Finds Recreational Cannabis is Helping With the Opioid Epidemic

By: Buz Deliere | January 19, 2023

Recreational cannabis legalization in some states has been linked to a sharp drop in demand for the potentially misused opioid codeine, according to new research published on Jan. 18th by Health Economics. The study found that the pharmacy-based distribution of codeine significantly decreased following recreational marijuana's approval.

A recent study has found a promising breakthrough in controlling the misuse of prescription opioids, which is linked to over 10,000 overdose deaths each year.

21 states across the U.S. have embraced a new era of recreational cannabis legalization, with more legislatures now ready to explore similar measures as public opinion continues to shift in favor of reform nationwide.

“Our research indicates that recreational cannabis laws substantially reduce distribution of codeine to pharmacies, an overlooked potential benefit to legalizing recreational cannabis use.” says doctoral candidate Shyam Raman who is affiliated with the Cornell Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy and the lead author.

the new study, believed to be the first of its kind, is providing insight into how recreational cannabis laws can have an effect on the shipment of opioids to distributors, hospitals, and pharmacies, with findings that challenge what we previously understood about medical cannabis law or opioid use by certain consumer groups.

Researchers conducted a comprehensive study of the U.S.'s controlled substance movement by examining data from the Drug Enforcement Administration's Automation of Reports and Consolidation Orders System in order to gain insight into usage across all states. Here's what they found:

Researchers discovered that for regions that have had recreational cannabis laws in effect for at least four years, there has been as much as an impressive 37% reduction of codeine distributed by pharmacies. This suggests the potential positive impact legalization can have on curbing prescription drug misuse and abuse.

Researchers also revealed no major change in the availability of popular opioids such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and morphine from distributors.

Despite widespread hospital policies, a recent study has revealed a minimal impact on codeine distribution to hospitals.

“Where previous studies have focused on more potent opioids, codeine is a weaker drug with a higher potential for addiction. It indicates people may be obtaining codeine from pharmacies for misuse, and that recreational cannabis laws reduce this illicit demand,” said senior author Coleman Drake of the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Public Health.

The research was also co-authored by W. David Bradford of the University of Georgia and Johanna Catherine Maclean, Ph.D., who is now affiliated with George Mason University.

Maclean believes that cannabis and opioids have the potential to reduce chronic pain, however, they are not interchangeable in terms of their effect on a person's health. She noted that increased availability of medical marijuana may encourage users away from opioid consumption due to its generally lower perceived harm when used for non-medical purposes.

This research could open the door for further exploration in this field, providing a critical stepping stone to more detailed insights to help combat the opioid epidemic in the country.


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