A new study published online yesterday in the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine has found states that have legalized medical cannabis have seen a drastic reduction of opioid overdose mortality rates.
Researchers from the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center, the University of Pennsylvania, Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health examined the prescription painkiller overdose death rates of all 50 states between 1999 and 2010, using data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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.” Researchers noted that the change was almost immediate; every state that legalized medical cannabis saw a dramatic decrease in opioid overdose deaths within the first year (averaging about 20% less). The decline continued each year after. By the 5th year, states had experienced a decrease in opioid deaths ranging up to 50.9%.
Researchers assert that in states where medical cannabis is legalized, patients are replacing their prescription painkillers, or reducing the amount they take, by using cannabis – therefore reducing the chance of deadly overdose.
The study concludes that, “Medical cannabis laws are associated with significantly lower state-level opioid overdose mortality rates,” and “Further investigation is required to determine how medical cannabis laws may interact with policies aimed at preventing opioid analgesic overdose.”