Massive Decrease In Overdoses In Medical Marijuana States


Results from a recent study suggest medical marijuana laws may have unexpected benefits.

Deaths from opioid overdoses has decreased in states where medical marijuana has been legalized, according to a recent study.

The multi-institutional study was led by researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in October of last year. [“JAMA Internal Medicine” is the particular American Medical Association publication of the study.]

Researchers aren’t sure exactly why, but states that allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes have a significantly lower rate of death from opioid analgesic overdoses, such as those from morphine, Oxycontin, Percocet, Vicodin and heroin.

The drugs are prescribed for moderate to severe chronic pain, and as JAMA reports, “A time-series analysis was conducted of medical cannabis laws and state-level death certificate data in the United States from 1999 to 2010; all 50 states were included.”

According to the report,

Three states (California, Oregon, and Washington) had medical cannabis laws effective prior to 1999. Ten states (Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and Vermont) implemented medical cannabis laws between 1999 and 2010. Nine states (Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and New York) had medical cannabis laws effective after 2010, which is beyond the study period. New Jersey’s medical cannabis law went into effect in the last quarter of 2010 and was counted as effective after the study period. In each year, we first plotted the mean age-adjusted opioid analgesic overdose mortality rate in states that had a medical cannabis law vs states that did not.

The study found that:

States with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8% lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate compared with states without medical cannabis laws. Examination of the association between medical cannabis laws and opioid analgesic overdose mortality in each year after implementation of the law showed that such laws were associated with a lower rate of overdose mortality that generally strengthened over time. […] In 2010, this translated to an estimated 1729 fewer deaths than expected.

Looking at six years of data, the study concluded overdose deaths from opioids decreased by an average of

  • 19.9% after one year,
  • 25.2% after two years,
  • 23.6% after three years,
  • 20.2% after four years,
  • 33.7% after five years, and
  • 33.6% after six years.

Reuters reports that: “Meanwhile, opioid overdose deaths across the country increased dramatically, from 4,030 in 1999 to 16,651 in 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Three of every four of those deaths involved prescription pain medications,” adding that “Of those who die from prescription opioid overdoses, 60 percent have a legitimate prescription from a single doctor, the CDC also reports.”

Samuel Warde
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