Do medical marijuana laws reduce addictions and deaths related to pain killers?

J Health Econ. 2018 Mar:58:29-42. doi: 10.1016/j.jhealeco.2017.12.007. Epub 2018 Feb 3.


Recent work finds that medical marijuana laws reduce the daily doses filled for opioid analgesics among Medicare Part-D and Medicaid enrollees, as well as population-wide opioid overdose deaths. We replicate the result for opioid overdose deaths and explore the potential mechanism. The key feature of a medical marijuana law that facilitates a reduction in overdose death rates is a relatively liberal allowance for dispensaries. As states have become more stringent in their regulation of dispensaries, the protective value generally has fallen. These findings suggest that broader access to medical marijuana facilitates substitution of marijuana for powerful and addictive opioids.

Keywords: Dispensaries; Medical marijuana; Mortality; Opioids; Pain killers; Substance abuse.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Marijuana Smoking / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Medical Marijuana*
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / mortality*
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / prevention & control*
  • Pain / drug therapy*
  • Risk Reduction Behavior*
  • United States


  • Medical Marijuana