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New Study: Medical Marijuana Could Lead to Fewer Opioid Overdose Deaths


Image Courtesy Laurie Avocado

Image Courtesy Laurie Avocado

A recent study published by JAMA has demonstrated that states with medical cannabis laws have 24.8% fewer opioid overdose deaths when compared to states without medical cannabis laws.

Additionally,  in states with medical cannabis laws, opioid overdose deaths decreased over time starting in the year the law was implemented. The study looked at the years 1999-2010, and while the study does not show that medical cannabis users are not also using opioids, it does indicate that they are using prescriptions painkillers less frequently, which could lead to fewer overdose deaths.

The study’s lead author, Dr. Marcus Bachhuber of the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center and the University of Pennsylvania, stated in a news release.: ”In absolute terms, states with a medical marijuana law had about 1,700 fewer opioid painkiller overdose deaths in 2010 than would be expected based on trends before the laws were passed.”

While this study certainly does not definitely show a causal relation, the correlation is hard to ignore, and there is already plenty of controversy surrounding it.

For example, Dr. Bradley Flansbaum, a hospitalist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, told WebMD, “I don’t know what to make of the paper. I’d be very, very careful saying that medical marijuana laws decrease risk of opiate [narcotic] overdose,” said . “It’s a very loose association.”

But, as Dr. Bachuber told TIME magazine, “I think that any change that leads to fewer people dying of opioid overdoses would be a positive… I think that leaves a tremendous opportunity for future studies to help guide use to look at the risk and benefits and in clinical practice.”


What do you think? Do you live in a state with medical cannabis laws? Do you prescribe medical cannabis? Under what circumstances? If not, why not? Let us know in the comments.

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