New research[1] published in the American Journal of Public Health says legal cannabis[2] is saving lives in Colorado. How exactly is weed saving lives in the state? Since marijuana legalization, Colorado has seen a decrease in the number of opioid-related deaths. Monthly opioid deaths in Colorado were on a steady rise until legalization in 2014.

Recreational Cannabis Impacts Opioid Mortality Rate

Researchers examined the association between Colorado’s legalization of recreational cannabis use and opioid-related mortality.

Using data from the years 2000-2015, the authors of the study found a decrease in opioid-related deaths in the two years following Colorado’s legalization.

“After Colorado’s legalization of recreational cannabis sale and use, opioid-related deaths decreased more than 6 percent in the following 2 years,” wrote[3] authors Melvin D. Livingston, Tracey E. Barnett, Chris Delcher and Alexander C. Wagenaar.

The authors point to the fact that recreational marijuana sales only began in 2014. As a result, they don’t have much data to work with.

Medical Cannabis’ Impact on Opioid Mortality Rate

However, a number of other studies have found an association[4] between medical marijuana laws and opioid analgesic overdose mortality in the United States.

In fact, prior to 2010, the three states with medical cannabis laws had far fewer opioid-related deaths. The mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate was 24.8 percent when compared to states without access to medical cannabis. Secondary analyses resulted in similar findings.

The authors of multiple studies have found medical cannabis laws to be associated with significantly lower state-level opioid overdose mortality rates. The more recent research illustrates that recreational marijuana seems to also cause a decrease in prescription opioid overdoses. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that legal cannabis is saving lives in Colorado post-legalization.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has compared[5] legalizing cannabis to allowing the opioid epidemic to escalate. Research, on the other hand, would argue that cannabis can help reduce opioid-related overdoses. Unlike opiates, cannabis overdoses never result in death. Instead, they tend to end with the best sleep you’ve ever had or in worst cases anxiety[6]. Jeff Sessions is comparing apples to oranges.

As more research surfaces, it will become more obvious that cannabis is one of the best weapons against the opioid epidemic[7].

The authors of the latest study on legal cannabis and opioid-related deaths hope to see their results replicated. States that have recently approved recreational marijuana, like Washington and Oregon, will be monitored by policymakers.


  1. ^ New research (
  2. ^ legal cannabis (
  3. ^ wrote (
  4. ^ an association (
  5. ^ has compared (
  6. ^ anxiety (
  7. ^ opioid epidemic (

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