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When medical marijuana is legalized for qualified patients, it is associated with a reduction in opioid related hospitalizations, according to a new study published online. The study will appear in the scientific journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

A University of California at San Diego researcher looked at the association between medicinal cannabis laws and hospitalizations related to opioid pain relievers, reports Paul Armentano at the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

The effect was apparent very quickly, and continued for years after passage of medical marijuana legalization. Both immediate and longer-term reductions in opioid-related hospitalizations followed changes in the law, the study reports.

“The study demonstrated significant reductions on OPR [opioid pain reliever] related hospitalizations associated with the implementation of medical marijuana polices,” according to the report. “We found reductions in OPR-related hospitalizations immediately after the year of policy implementation as well as delayed reductions in the third post-policy year.”

The oft-repeated claim that loosening marijuana laws result in an increase in cannabis-related hospital admissions is also unfounded, according to the study.

“While the interpretation of the results should remain cautious, this study suggested that medical marijuana policies were not associated with marijuana-related hospitalizations,” the researcher concluded. “Instead, the policies were unintendedly associated with substantial reductions in OPR related hospitalizations.”

Medical marijuana legalization was associated with 23 percent and 13 percent reductions in hospitalizations related to opioid dependence or abuse and OPR overdose, respectively; lagged effects were observed after policy implementation,” the study found. “Medical marijuana polices had no associations with marijuana-related hospitalizations.”

The report confirms findings of previous studies that medical marijuana legalization is associated with lower rates of opioid abuse, fatal opioid overdoses, and prescription drug spending.



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