Medical Cannabis Reduces Deaths From Prescription Drugs
US states that offer legal medical cannabis have seen a 25% decrease in deaths caused by prescription painkillers.
As you may have seen in our recent article, prescription painkillers, especially those with an opiate origin, are the leading cause of drug related deaths – far outweighing the death toll of illegal drugs. Since the 90’s, the number of people dying from a painkiller overdose has steadily increased, but it seem that trend is now starting to reverse, and it is happening in places that have legalized the use of medical cannabis.
The proof in the numbers
Research recently published in JAMA Internal Medicine has concluded that within the US, the 13 states that legalized medical cannabis between 1999 and 2010 have seen significant reductions in the amount of deaths caused by prescription painkillers – by up to 25%! This is an absolutely astonishing amount, and if confirmed by further developments, blows away the arguments against the legalisation of medical marijuana.
According to the study’s co-author, a significant decline in death can be seen in each state as soon as one year after legalisation. For many of us, this is no surprise, as we all know the pain relieving power of cannabis; but it is another example of how marijuana can have a positive social impact.
Criticisms of the study
Although the study hasn’t been out for long, it has been quick to come under fire. The three main points of critique are that marijuana is not often prescribed as a painkiller, that the reduction in death is more likely a result of a crackdown on over prescribing opiates, and that states that legalize marijuana are likely to have more progressive rehabilitation programs.
It is always important to take into account criticism and counter arguments when making a scientific point, as sometimes they are valid. However, in this case, the critics miss the point, and here’s why:
Firstly, whilst it may be true that marijuana is not often prescribed to treat primary chronic pain, it is prescribed to treat conditions where chronic pain is one of the many symptoms – such as cancer, migraines, inflammatory disorders and glaucoma. Further, many cannabis patients chose to self-medicate without the guidance of a doctor, in which case they escape the statistics. To say it isn’t used to treat pain is only a half truth.
Then comes the idea that this 25% in reduction has come from a crackdown in the use of opiates. For this to be a feasible argument it would mean that in each state, the crackdown would have had to commence at the exact same time as medical marijuana was legalized, as there is a correlation between the time marijuana was legalized and the time the reduction in overdoses started.
This reasoning also applies to the third critique, which states that progressive rehabilitation programs would have to coincide with the same time frame, in each state. The very fact that having good and progressive rehabilitation programs is being used as an argument against cannabis also just seems wrong. Surely if the work of a progressive state is being shown to reduce death by 25%, then other states should be taking a leaf from their book and follow in turn.
Take what you will from it, the fact is the amount of death caused by prescription painkillers is going down in states that have legalized medical marijuana – and that can only be a good thing.