Is There An Upside To Medical Marijuana Use?

F.J. Thomas

Secaucus, NJ (WorkersCompensation.com) — Employers may want to rethink their drug policy if recent studies are any indication of the potential benefits of medical marijuana use among workers. According to at least two studies performed last year, data suggests that lower opiate use and lower workplace fatalities were associated with medical marijuana use.

A Quest Diagnostic analysis of over 10 million workplace drug test results reported by WorkersCompensation.com showed an overall increase in drug use in general. The data showed that drug positivity increased from 4.2 percent in 2017 to 4.4 percent in 2018, which is 25 percent higher than the two year rate of 3.5 from 2010 to 2012. This was attributed in part to the legalization of marijuana.

Marijuana was the most commonly used drug according to the test results. There was a 7 percent increase in use from 2017, and a 17 percent increase from 2014.With the increase in marijuana use however, a corresponding decrease in opiate use was indicated by the test results. Usage of codeine and morphine dropped by 21 percent. Additionally, heroin and cocaine use declined. Heroin use declined 6 percent from the previous year, and declined more than 16 percent than the highest years reported in 2015 and 2016. Similar results were seen for cocaine use at a 7 percent decrease from the previous year.

Another study published in Science Direct and written by D. Mark Anderson of Montana State University, Daniel Rees of University of Colorado, and Erdal Tekin potentially suggests that lowered opiate use may not be the only benefit seen with marijuana use.

The 2018 study cross referenced the states which have legalized medical marijuana with workplace fatality data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The study found that in those states that had legalized marijuana, there was a correlating 19.5 percent decrease in workplace fatalities in workers aged 25 to 44. In workers aged 16 to 24, and workers above the age of 44 there was no significant association. However, the association of legalizing marijuana and workplace fatality rates grew stronger every year in the 25 to 44 age category.

Additionally, another study written by Anderson found that traffic fatalities fall by 8 to 11 percent the first full year after legalization.

“The legalization of medical marijuana is associated with a 7.2 percent decrease in traffic fatalities in which there was no reported alcohol involvement, but this estimate is not statistically significant at conventional levels. In comparison, the legalization of medical marijuana is associated with a 13.2 percent decrease in fatalities in which at least one driver involved had a positive BAC level.”

In yet another study, Anderson found that suicide rates were reduced in males aged 20 to 39 in states that had legalized medical marijuana.

The study concluded that more research needs to be done to determine whether the results were attributable to a decrease in alcohol and opioids that cause impairment in cognitive functions and motor skills.

In an interview with WorkersCompensation.com, Anderson indicated that the results of his studies are compelling enough to warrant more research on such a controversial topic. He states, “I’ve been researching topics related to marijuana legislation for a while, but had not thought about looking at workplace-related fatalities until more recently. It is one of those outcomes where the data are readily available and it is of general public interest, so it just made sense to go down this road. One of the things that initially piqued my interest is the economics literature on alcohol-related policies and workplace fatalities. There are some pretty well-known studies in this area, but there was nothing on marijuana policy.”

When asked whether or not the results in his studies were what he thought he would find, Anderson stated he was slightly surprised as the data. “I did not have strong priors as to what we might find. In theory, the direction of the effect could go either way. But, was I surprised when we found a negative relationship between medical marijuana laws and workplace-related fatalities? No, I definitely was not. Given our past research showing that these laws reduce traffic fatalities and suicides (with a likely mechanism being through a reduction in alcohol consumption), it is not a big leap to think that workplace fatalities might fall as well.”

In light of conflicting studies available on medical marijuana use and the current opioid crisis on the national radar, Anderson believes that question really comes down to “whether marijuana and opioids are substitute or complementary goods.” He believes that some studies do indicate that marijuana is a substitute, and that the “legalization of medical marijuana could significantly improve public health in terms of opioid-related outcomes.”

You can read more of Mark Anderson’s studies on his research website.

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