Legalizing Marijuana Decreases Fatal Opiate Overdoses, Study Shows

On This Page

According to the American Academy of Pain Medicine, more than 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain. In an effort to relieve that constant pain, the number of opiate prescriptions has nearly doubled over the last decade. Today, opiates like hydrocodone, oxycodone, and morphine flood the streets, driving up addiction rates and fatal opiate overdoses.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has officially labeled the problem an “opiate epidemic.” As experts scramble to come up with a plan that combats the nation’s dependence on opiates, a new study published last week in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine indicates medical marijuana might be the key.

Over the past two decades, deaths from drug overdoses have become the leading cause of injury death in the United States. In 2011, 55 percent of drug overdose deaths were related to prescription medications; 75 percent of those deaths involved opiate painkillers. However, researchers found that opiate-related deaths decreased by approximately 33 percent in 13 states in the following six years after medical marijuana was legalized.

“The striking implication is that medical marijuana laws, when implemented, may represent a promising approach for stemming runaway rates of nonintentional opioid-analgesic-related deaths,” wrote opiate abuse researchers Dr. Mark S. Brown and Marie J. Hayes in a commentary published alongside the study.

Getting Down to the Numbers

Researchers looked at medical marijuana laws and death certificate data in all 50 states between the years of 1999 and 2010. During that time, only 13 states had medical marijuana laws in place. Researchers quickly noticed that the rates of fatal opioid overdoses were significantly lower in states that had legalized medical marijuana. In 2010 alone, states with legalized medical marijuana saw approximately 1,700 fewer opiate-related overdose deaths.

“We found there was about a 25 percent lower rate of prescription painkiller overdose deaths on average after implementation of a medical marijuana law,” lead study author Dr. Marcus Bachhuber said.

Marijuana and Chronic Pain

About 60 percent of the nation’s fatal opioid overdoses occur among patients who have legitimate prescriptions for their medications. In states where medical marijuana is legal, however, a legitimate opiate user is able to significantly decrease his or her dosage, making overdose less likely.

Currently, 23 states and the District of Columbia have passed medical marijuana laws. Use of medicinal cannabis is approved for a number of conditions, including cancer, HIV, multiple sclerosis, and glaucoma. Despite the diagnosis, medical marijuana is primarily used to relieve chronic or severe pain. It’s that pain-relieving effect that decreases the number of fatal opioid overdoses.

Major Pain-Relieving Components of Cannabis

In a 2011 study published in the journal Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics, researchers suggest the following medical marijuana components offer pain-relieving properties:

  • Delta-9 Tetrahydrocannabinol (Delta-9 THC)
  • Cannabidiol (CBD)
  • Cannabinol (CBN)
  • Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV)

Learn more about the signs and symptoms of prescription drug abuse.


Additional Resources on Health Insurance Providers and Coverage Levels

Visit the links below to find out more about your health insurance coverage levels, how to get your insurance company to pay for drug and alcohol rehab and also how to pay if you don’t have insurance.


Additional Resources on Drug and Alcohol Rehab

Whether you’re looking for a specific type of rehab treatment, substance related info or additional guides, below are some our popular and recommended.

American Addiction Centers
Treatment Facilities Nationwide
The content on DrugAbuse.com is brought to you by American Addiction Centers (AAC), a nationwide network of leading substance abuse and behavioral treatment facilities.
American Addiction Centers Facility Map
BROWSE OUR TREATMENT FACILITIES
american addiction centers photo
The editorial staff of DrugAbuse.com is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers . Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed thousands of pages for accuracy and relevance. Our reviewers consistently monitor the latest research from SAMHSA, NIDA, and other reputable sources to provide our readers the most accurate content on the web.
Popular Providers