DENVER – A study published earlier this month in the Journal of Drug and Alcohol Dependence says states with legalized medical marijuana programs have seen fewer opioid-induced hospitalizations per capita than states with no program.
The study was authored by Yuyan Shi, an assistant professor at the University of California-San Diego, and looked at hospitalization records for marijuana and opioids in 27 states across the country from 1997 to 2014.
She found that states with legal medical marijuana programs saw 23 percent fewer opioid dependence or abuse hospitalizations and 13 percent fewer opioid overdose hospitalizations than states without legal medical marijuana programs.
The report also found that operational medical marijuana programs did not lead to an increase in marijuana-related hospitalizations.
“Medical marijuana policies were significantly associated with reduced [opioid]-related hospitalizations but had no associations with marijuana-related hospitalizations,” the report’s conclusion found.
While there have been no state studies that directly link marijuana legalization and opioid use in Colorado, there is some recent data available on each independently.
Heroin arrests were up by 515 percent over the same time period, and law enforcement seized 268.7 pounds of heroin in 2015, compared to just 16.1 pounds in 2011 – though both could be chalked up to an increased focus by law enforcement.
Legal recreational marijuana sales started in 2014, and overall combined sales between medical and recreational marijuana in Colorado have jumped from $699.2 million that year to $1.3 billion last year.
The state sold $437.8 million in medical marijuana in 2016 – up about $29.5 million from 2015.