Medical marijuana legalization coincided with a 23 per cent drop in hospitalizations for opioid dependence or abuse, analysis of hospital administrative records from 28 states showed.
Hospitalization for opioid overdoses dropped 13 per cent.
Meanwhile, medical marijuana legalization had no impact on marijuana-related hospitalizations.
“While the interpretation of the results should remain cautious, this study suggested that medical marijuana policies were not associated with marijuana-related hospitalizations,” wrote study author Yuyan Shi, professor of public health at the University of California, San Diego.
“Instead, the policies were unintendedly associated with substantial reductions in opioid pain reliever-related hospitalizations.”
Abuse of opioids, powerful and highly addictive painkillers, has grown both in Canada and the U.S.
The epidemic has prompted Canadian medical experts to call for an overhaul in the way chronic pain is treated, including updating the best practice guidelines for opioid prescribing methods at a national level.
Medical marijuana was first made legal in Canada in 2001; the Liberal government is now in the process of fully legalizing marijuana.
While it’s “premature” to advocate the use of marijuana as a strategy to curb opioid abuse, Shi wrote, the findings are worth exploring.
“Policymakers should take into consideration these positive unintended consequences while legalizing medical marijuana.”
The findings were recently published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.