Lower Opioid Overdose Mortality Rates In States With Medical Cannabis Laws

"Although the mean annual opioid analgesic overdose mortality rate was lower in states with medical cannabis laws compared with states without such laws, the findings of our secondary analyses deserve further consideration. State-specific characteristics, such as trends in attitudes or health behaviors, may explain variation in medical cannabis laws and opioid analgesic overdose mortality, and we found some evidence that differences in these characteristics contributed to our findings. When including state-specific linear time trends in regression models, which are used to adjust for hard-to-measure confounders that change over time, the association between laws and opioid analgesic overdose mortality weakened. In contrast, we did not find evidence that states that passed medical cannabis laws had different overdose mortality rates in years prior to law passage, providing a temporal link between laws and changes in opioid analgesic overdose mortality. In addition, we did not find evidence that laws were associated with differences in mortality rates for unrelated conditions (heart disease and septicemia), suggesting that differences in opioid analgesic overdose mortality cannot be explained by broader changes in health. In summary, although we found a lower mean annual rate of opioid analgesic mortality in states with medical cannabis laws, a direct causal link cannot be established."


Bacchuber, Marcus A., MD; Saloner, Brendan, PhD; Cunningham, Chinazo O., MD, MS; and Barry, Colleen L., PhD, MPP. "Medical Cannabis Laws and Opioid Analgesic Overdose Mortality in the United States, 1999-2010." JAMA Intern Med. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.4005. Published online August 25, 2014.