Many US states have made cannabis legal and allowed cannabis stores to open and operate freely. This easy availability of cannabis has somehow reduced the total number of opioid-linked deaths in the country, especially were caused by synthetic opioids for example fentanyl. This link between legalizing a plant-based opioid and reduced risk overall is surprising. The complete study findings are published in the journal The BMJ this week
Opioids are all medicines that can relieve short-term or chronic pain. Most of them are used as a temporary treatment for pain and there is only limited evidence on how they may help in the long term. While painkillers are easily available without a prescription is the biggest factor in their chances of abuse. Many people don’t even realize that they are subjecting themselves to a danger that will harm their whole body.
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The opioids overdose has caused thousands of deaths and every year this number is increasing. For example, the US reported nearly 46,000 deaths caused by fentanyl overdose in the year 2018 which is only 2/3rd of all the opioid-related deaths during that year.
There are some studies which show that easy access of legal cannabis store which is a natural pain-relieving but addictive product may actually lower the chances of opioid abuse and deaths all other the country. To understand how these two are connected, this current study evaluated all the data on cannabis shops and opioid-linked deaths in the US for four years (2014 to 2018).
These findings from 812 counties inside 23 US states where cannabis is legal and easily available at local dispensaries most of which became operational in 2017.
This state-level information on the cannabis laws was compared with the data obtained from different counties and the licensed dispensaries that are working in that county. It was later on compared with the death rate caused by opioid overdose. Adjusting some factors, the research team was surprised to see that counties that have more dispensaries actually have a low mortality rate by opioid overdose.
According to this data, the presence of 1 or 2 legal cannabis stores in a country can reduce the opioid mortality rate by 17%. This information was found true for both medical dispensaries and recreational stores.
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Interestingly, this data is strong for deaths caused by overdosing synthetic opioids which reported a nearly 21% reduction in death date as per 1-2 dispensaries in any county. Those counties which confirmed the presence of up to four functional dispensaries selling legal cannabis further reported an 8.5% reduction in opioid-linked deaths.
This is the first-ever study that finds the relationship between the legal status of cannabis and its effect on the opioid mortality rate at the county level. But all of these results are based on observational studies and can’t be used to establish the reason. While cannabis is considered less risky than synthetic opioids, it can not be regarded as a ‘safe’ alternative to painkillers. It is highly addictive, and has many potential dangers attached, which is why safety protocols should be followed during cannabis use.