According to a study just published in JAMA Internal Medicine states that have legalized medical marijuana have 25percent less prescription drug overdose deaths. A team of researchers from the Bloomberg School and the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania report that expanding legal access to marijuana, notably often utilized for its pain-alleviating qualities, could have additional, unintended benefits. This reduction in drug overdoses occurred directly following the passing of legislation allowing the use of medical marijuana.
Dr. Marcus Bachhuber, a lead author on the study said: “We think that people with chronic pain may be choosing to treat their pain with marijuana rather than with prescription painkillers, in states where this is legal.”
In recent decades the number of deaths caused by overdoses of painkillers has risen. In fact from 1999 to 2011 the rate has risen by 118 percent. Across the nation, this rate continues to rise every year. What the investigative team discovered when analyzing data was that the number of deaths in the states that permitted the use of medical marijuana was 25 percent lower than in states where it remains illegal. This reduction actually went as high 33 percent in the five years following the legalization of medical marijuana in some states.
Some experts remain skeptical. They claim there is the potential for abuse of medical marijuana and hesitate to strongly support the association. Bachhuber himself admits that it is impossible to account for all the potential variables that could influence such an outcome.
At the same time, other studies have reportedly revealed similar results. Scientists note that the chances of addiction, overdose and death with medical marijuana are significantly less than with prescription painkillers.
Colleen Barry, an associate professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, concluded that as awareness of overdose and addiction risks connected to painkillers like Vicodin and Oxycontin grow, “individuals with chronic pain and their medical providers may be opting to treat pain entirely or in part with medical marijuana.”