Recreational Cannabis Legalization and Opioid-Related Deaths in Colorado, 2000-2015

Am J Public Health. 2017 Nov;107(11):1827-1829. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2017.304059.


Objectives: To examine the association between Colorado's legalization of recreational cannabis use and opioid-related deaths.

Methods: We used an interrupted time-series design (2000-2015) to compare changes in level and slope of monthly opioid-related deaths before and after Colorado stores began selling recreational cannabis. We also describe the percent change in opioid-related deaths by comparing the unadjusted model-smoothed number of deaths at the end of follow-up with the number of deaths just prior to legalization.

Results: Colorado's legalization of recreational cannabis sales and use resulted in a 0.7 deaths per month (b = -0.68; 95% confidence interval = -1.34, -0.03) reduction in opioid-related deaths. This reduction represents a reversal of the upward trend in opioid-related deaths in Colorado.

Conclusions: Legalization of cannabis in Colorado was associated with short-term reductions in opioid-related deaths. As additional data become available, research should replicate these analyses in other states with legal recreational cannabis.

MeSH terms

  • Colorado / epidemiology
  • Drug Overdose / mortality
  • Humans
  • Marijuana Smoking / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / mortality*