Weed Could Help Stop Painkiller Overdose Epidemic

August 28, 2014 | Marina Galperina

With people abusing opioid-based drugs cross the country, a new study published by the Jama Internal Medicine suggests a safer alternative. In surveying death certificate data from every state between 1999 and 2010, research shows that states where weed can be legally prescribed to treat chronic pain have a 24.8% lower opioid overdose mortality rate.

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 (95% CI, −37.5% to −9.5%; P = .003) compared with states without medical cannabis laws. Examination of the association between medical cannabis laws and opioid analgesic overdose mortality in each year after implementation of the law showed that such laws were associated with a lower rate of overdose mortality that generally strengthened over time: year 1 (−19.9%; 95% CI, −30.6% to −7.7%; P = .002), year 2 (−25.2%; 95% CI, −40.6% to −5.9%; P = .01), year 3 (−23.6%; 95% CI, −41.1% to −1.0%; P = .04), year 4 (−20.2%; 95% CI, −33.6% to −4.0%; P = .02), year 5 (−33.7%; 95% CI, −50.9% to −10.4%; P = .008), and year 6 (−33.3%; 95% CI, −44.7% to −19.6%; P < .001). In secondary analyses, the findings remained similar.

The study assesses that the rise in overdoses has resulted from by an increasing number of prescriptions for pain killers like OxyContin and Vicodin. Researchers encourage further research into the safety that cannabis friendly state laws can provide, which could be more effective at preventing opioid analgesic overdose than current attempts regulation.

Additionally to its various medical uses, previous studies have noted that recreational weed is less likely to cause binge drinking than other substances such as MDMA. Another recent study seems to suggest that weed reduces instances of violence in domestic situations. (Photo: @Don Goofy)