Medical marijuana may reduce pain pill overdose deaths by a whopping 25 percent, a new study has revealed. The study, which was published today in the journal Jama Internal Medicine, found that states in which medical marijuana is legal have far fewer pain medicine overdoses than do states where marijuana is illegal. The study also found that when marijuana is legalized, deaths from narcotic pain pills plunge drastically in the years just after the legalization.
The Center for Health Equity Research and Promotion at the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center scientist Dr. Marcus Bachhuber explains that he thinks the study results have been realized because people are forgoing dangerous narcotics and choosing marijuana instead, which has almost no risk of overdose and is not as physically addictive as many of the alternatives to pain management. Researchers say that the correlation found represents a larger decrease than other measures that have been used in the past to curtail deaths from narcotics overdoses, such as closely monitoring prescription drugs and stricter controls placed on pain management clinics.
Doctors have also been increasing their efforts to stop people from accidentally overdosing. Many doctors do not prescribe pain pills at all, especially to new patients, and they carefully follow how many prescriptions their current patients ask them for.
Despite these steps, in the last ten years, overdose deaths from pain pills have increased dramatically, and health officials have been concerned that the upward trend could continue. While the new study has not proven causation, if further data could show a direct causal link between medical marijuana and reduced deaths from pain pills, it could impact future legal decisions in other states. Health officials say there is a definite need to address the growing health concerns of overdose risks.
The study showed that the correlation between reduced deaths and the legality of medical marijuana increased as time went on. By year five after legalization, say researchers, overdose deaths had reduced by 33 percent. Some experts caution that the study does not provide a causal relationship and they warn that correlation does not equal causation. However, the study supports previous research that has found that those who use medical marijuana taker fewer pain pills overall. Can medical marijuana reduce pain pill overdose deaths? More research is clearly needed to replicate these initial encouraging results.
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