Fewer people are dying at work and it’s all thanks to medical cannabis.
A study from 2018 found that States which legalised access to medical cannabis saw a 34% decrease in workplace deaths for adults aged 25-44.
The researchers who conducted the study believe this is because workers are drinking less alcohol, and taking less pharmaceutical medications, due to having the legal option of cannabis.
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Researchers at Montana State University and the University of Colorado analysed data from all 50 states between 1992 and 2015 to investigate the impact legalising medicinal cannabis had on workplace safety.
Expected workplace fatalities went down by an average of 19.5% for workers aged 25-44 in States which legalised medical cannabis, with this rising to 33.7% among the same age-group in States with medical cannabis laws for five years or more.
While those ages 25-44 saw a reduction in workplace fatalities, the trend did not continue outside of that age group. Workers who were ages 16 to 24, or 44 and above, saw no statistically significant changes in workplace deaths.
What should be noted is that while workplace deaths among those age-groups did not decrease, they also did not increase, throwing serious doubt on the accusations by anti-cannabis campaigners that legalising medical cannabis will lead to more deaths and accidents in the workplace.
Discussing the results of the study with Leafly, co-author of the study, D. Mark Anderson, Ph.D., explained that this age-dependent result reflects the known effects of cannabis laws:
“I think the fact that the effects show up for young adults only was pretty interesting and consistent with some of our other research on medical marijuana laws.
“We find that it is generally young adults who are affected by these laws.”
The researchers know that legalising medical cannabis leads to fewer workplace deaths, but they don’t know why:
“We were actually unable to pin down the precise mechanism through which medical marijuana laws affected workplace fatalities.
“At the end of the day, we could only speculate as to why these laws may have affected workplace events.”
One of the leading theories is simple: cannabis is a lot safer than other, legal, drugs, specifically alcohol and pharmaceutical medications. It is possible that workers with legal access to medical cannabis will reach for the herb rather than the booze.
Anderson’s previous research gives this theory strength, finding that medical cannabis laws are associated with swapping between alcohol and cannabis, leading to less damage caused to society by the former.
Anderson’s 2012 study found that traffic fatalities fall by 8-11% the first full year after legalisation. According to the study, “Alcohol consumption appears to play a key role.”
The legalisation of medical cannabis saw a 7.2% decrease in traffic fatalities in which there was no reported alcohol involvement. For comparison, States which legalising medical cannabis saw an average of 13.2% decrease in fatalities in which at least one driver involved had a positive BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) level.
The theory, then, is that it is far safer to be high on cannabis than drunk on alcohol. If workers turn up to the workplace drunk or hungover, they increase their chance of causing a fatal accident, whereas if they turn up stoned, there is a far greater chance this will lead to a fatal accident.
States with medical cannabis laws also had a 24.8% lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate.
This is of interest to Anderson’s study, which found greater fatality reductions in states where ‘pain’ was a qualifying condition to receive cannabis.
Opioids have a wide-range of dangerous side-effects, including “Brian fog,” which can obviously cause issues in the workplace. Medical cannabis, on the other hand, does not cause this.
Anderson concluded that: “further investigation is required to determine whether this result is attributable to reductions in the consumption of alcohol and other substances that impair cognitive function, memory, and motor skills.”
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