States With Legal Medical Marijuana Have Fewer Prescription Drug Deaths
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States With Legal Medical Marijuana Have Fewer Prescription Drug Deaths


We write a lot about weed at AfterPartyChat, and usually not to sing its praises. While recreational pot isn’t the worst thing you can do to your body— and may actually be safer than alcohol—it’s far from a healthy pastime, especially for anyone in recovery from other addictions.


Over-doping Lessens Overdosing

But there may be one powerful benefit marijuana has had on the public health landscape. In the 13 states where pot is legal for medical use, fewer people are dying from overdoses of prescription painkillers.

A new study published in JAMA shows that states where doctors can legally prescribe pot experienced 25% fewer pill overdoses. The effects were evident immediately: the year after each state legalized medical marijuana, painkiller ODs in that state began to plummet.

The researchers behind the study theorized that doctors may dole out fewer opioids when they can prescribe the much less toxic cannabis instead. Pot could also be used as a supplement to painkillers, requiring lower doses of the highly addictive pills.

We’ve already spilt much digital ink on the growing scourge of prescription opioid addiction. Since 1991, overdoses on these pills have tripled as more people become hooked, and about 46 Americans die from them each day. Health professionals and treatment experts are struggling to do whatever they can to curb the trend. So the fact that medical marijuana may have the power to take a bite out of the epidemic should have doctors rejoicing.

More Herb or Better Treatment?

But no conversation about marijuana would be complete without vocal dissent. Dr. Andrew Kolodny, chief medical officer at Phoenix House treatment center, argues that correlation doesn’t imply causation in this case because doctors simply don’t prescribe pot for the same kinds of chronic pain that merit opioid medications. Instead, he suggests that the same socially liberal states that legalize weed are also more likely to take a kinder, gentler approach to addiction—one that favors treatment rather than punishment, leading to fewer ODs. These same states may also be implementing policies designed to reduce over-prescription of addictive pills.

Kolodny may be right that most docs aren’t exactly turning to pot as a substitute for Vicodin. Consensus on the street is that medical marijuana cards are as easy to get in Los Angeles as cronut knockoffs. A friend of my boyfriend’s who doesn’t even smoke pot—or live in a state that would let him use it—snagged one in 20 minutes just for kicks while visiting Venice Beach. The “doctor” on site asked him if he ever experienced pain. If it were that easy to get Oxy, well, we’d be Florida.

Proceed With [Optimistic] Caution

Still, it’s hard to believe the correlation across 13 states is entirely meaningless, especially when the improvements seem to come so swiftly on the heels of legalization. And if doctors aren’t actually prescribing weed in place of opioids, maybe more of them should consider doing so—with caution. For addicts, the best choice would certainly be neither, but for some pain, narcotics are the only option. In that case, the lesser of two evils is a clear choice.

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About Author

Erica Larsen AKA Eren Harris blogs at Whitney Calls and Clean Bright Day. Their writing has also been published on Salon, Selfish, Violet Rising and YourTango. They live in Los Angeles with their husband and their enormous cat.