Medical Marijuana Laws, Marijuana Use, and Opioid-Related Outcomes among Women in the United States

Womens Health Issues. 2021 Jan-Feb;31(1):24-30. doi: 10.1016/j.whi.2020.09.003. Epub 2020 Oct 14.


Background: In the context of the opioid epidemic, a limited but growing body of literature has found state medical marijuana laws (MMLs) to be associated with lower levels of opioid prescribing. However, robust evidence linking state MMLs with individual-level opioid-related outcomes is lacking, particularly among women. This finding is especially true for pregnant and parenting women, who have been disproportionately affected by the opioid crisis.

Methods: Using data drawn from the 2002-2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Heath, the study uses a difference-in-differences estimation strategy to compare opioid-related outcomes (opioid misuse initiation, opioid misuse in the past month and past year, and opioid use disorder) among all women, pregnant women, and parenting women in states with and without MMLs (before and after implementation). The study also investigates the impact of MMLs on marijuana use and marijuana use disorder.

Results: The findings indicate that MMLs were not associated with opioid misuse, opioid misuse initiation, or opioid use disorder among all women, pregnant women, and parenting women. These laws were, however, positively correlated with marijuana use and marijuana use disorder among all women and women with children. In addition, MMLs were associated with an increase in the frequency of opioid misuse for pregnant women and a decrease in the frequency of opioid misuse for parenting women.

Conclusions: This finding suggests that, although medical marijuana may be viewed by some as a substitute for opioid analgesics, MMLs may not be an effective policy tool to tackle the opioid epidemic among women, especially pregnant and parenting women.

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid / adverse effects
  • Cannabis*
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Marijuana Use* / drug therapy
  • Marijuana Use* / epidemiology
  • Medical Marijuana*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'
  • Pregnancy
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Medical Marijuana