Opioid Overdose Deaths Decrease in States with Medical Marijuana
A study published in the October 2014 issue of JAMA Internal Medicine reports that the number of deaths from opioid overdoses decreased by almost 25% in states that have legalized medical marijuana.
Study Design and Results
Researchers looked at medical cannabis (marijuana) laws and state-level death certificate data in the United States from 1999 to 2010. They included all 50 states. 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) enacted medical cannabis laws between 1999 and 2010.
States with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8% lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate compared with states without medical cannabis laws.
When they examined the association between medical cannabis laws and opioid overdose mortality for each year of the first six years after the laws went into effect, they found that in general, the number of deaths continued to decrease - from 19.9% fewer deaths the first year the law was enacted to 33.3% fewer deaths in year six.
The study authors concluded, "Medical cannabis laws are associated with significantly lower state-level opioid overdose mortality rates."
They went on to say, "Further investigation is required to determine how medical cannabis laws may interact with policies aimed at preventing opioid analgesic overdose."
I think these statistics are exciting and encouraging. If legalizing marijuana can cut the number of deaths from accidental opioid overdoses that drastically, serious consideration should be given to legalizing it nationally.
Although the design of this study didn’t uncover exactly why overdose deaths decreased, the authors speculated on at least two possibilities.
1.) "…patients with chronic noncancer pain who would have otherwise initiated opioid analgesics may choose medical cannabis instead."
2.) "In addition, patients already receiving opioid analgesics who start medical cannabis treatment may experience improved analgesia and decrease their opioid dose, thus potentially decreasing their dose-dependent risk of overdose."
How do you feel about medical marijuana? If you live in a state that has legalized it, have you tried it? If so, have you been able to reduce or replace your opioid medications?
Bachhuber M.A., "Medical Cannibis Laws and Opioid Analgesic Overdose Mortality in the United States, 1999-2010. JAMA Internal Medicine 2014;174(10):1668-1673. October 1, 2014.
Karen is the co-founder of the National Fibromyalgia Association. She wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Pain Management.