Recreational Cannabis Tied to Unintended Harms, Benefits

Car crash fatalities up in these states, but opioid overdose deaths down
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FRIDAY, March 31, 2023 (HealthDay News) – Recreational cannabis is associated with an increase in car crash fatalities but a decrease in opioid-related overdose deaths, according to a study published in the March issue of Social Science & Medicine.

Samantha Marinello and Lisa M. Powell, Ph.D., from the University of Illinois Chicago, analyzed data from U.S. death certificates (2009 to 2019) to estimate the impact of recreational cannabis markets on fatalities from motor vehicle accidents, suicide, and opioid overdose in seven states: Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Nevada, California, and Massachusetts. Results were compared to states that only had comprehensive medical access to cannabis.

The researchers observed substantial increases in crash fatalities in Colorado, Oregon, Alaska, and California (16, 22, 20, and 14 percent, respectively). On average, recreational markets were associated with a 10 percent increase in motor vehicle accident deaths. There was no evidence that cannabis markets impacted suicides. During the study period, most states saw a relative reduction in opioid overdose death (range: 3 to 28 percent).

"The results suggest that a potential unintended consequence of recreational markets is increased cannabis-intoxicated driving and crash deaths, and, hence, a potential need for policies focused on reducing driving under the influence of cannabis," the authors write.

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