Have California’s medical marijuana dispensaries helped ease the state’s opioid crisis? Several studies have found lower rates of opioid-related overdoses in states that have legalized marijuana for medical purposes.
Now, a new study published in the Journal of Health Economics suggests states that have made it easiest for patients to buy medical marijuana -- primarily via dispensaries -- have seen the greatest impact on opioid overdose deaths. The study was co-authored by researchers from UC Irvine and the RAND Corporation.
"Dispensaries need to be open and operating to see the effect,” the RAND Corporation’s Rosalie Pacula, one of the study’s authors, said at a recent conference sponsored by UC Irvine’s new Center for the Study of Cannabis. “Market size matters.”
Still, Pacula cautioned that changing state marijuana laws and the evolving nature of the opioid crisis make it difficult to formulate solid conclusions. Plus, she said, the long-term health impacts of using marijuana -- especially today’s potent and varied derivatives -- are unknown.
"We need more information and longer time periods in order to see what the longer term effects are,” she said.