Though many government officials and citizens see marijuana as a dangerous substance that shouldn’t be used to treat the symptoms of diseases and illnesses, its use helps millions of sufferers ease their chronic pain, while also showing other benefits. In fact, this natural substance has few side effects, is less addictive, and is non-lethal, which cannot be said of most pharmaceuticals. And the thirteen states that have legalized medical marijuana have seen another benefit: a 25% drop in painkiller deaths.
Overdoses by the Numbers
Prescription drug overdosing is a serious issue throughout the U.S. Though the link hasn’t been proven, the drop in painkiller deaths could possibly be related to the growing rate of medicinal marijuana use with patients suffering chronic pain and other illnesses. Many patients are opting out of using dangerous, harsh pharmaceuticals and instead are seeking relief with medical cannabis.
Since the 1990s, deaths from pharmaceuticals have tripled, with 46 people dying from overdoses every single day in the United States. But in the thirteen states that have recently legalized medical marijuana, that number has plummeted by 25%, which is a significant drop. The shift was quite visible and came quickly just one year after the drug’s legalization for medical use. The increased use in cannabis rather than opiates is the most obvious, yet still unproven, explanation for the reduced rate of deaths.
The researchers who found the significant drop in opioid mortality hypothesize that it is linked to the rise in medical marijuana. In the past, many patients had no choice but to use pharmaceutical opiates to ease their chronic pain, as no suitable alternatives were available. They had the choice of using prescription painkillers, suffering with their pain, or partaking in an illegal activity. But since the legalization of medical cannabis in some states, many pain sufferers are using the plant-based painkiller instead of, or in conjunction with, their opiates, meaning that they require a lower dosage, which would reduce the likelihood of a fatal problem.
However, causation has not been proven and it is merely a hypothesis. Some experts disagree, saying that the increase in medicinal cannabis use would not be high enough to warrant being the cause of the drop of overdose deaths, as only a handful of doctors prescribe it. They believe that the study results are due to several factors, such as state policies to reduce the over-prescribing of pharmaceutical painkillers and the adoption of progressive laws to treat addiction.
A Solution to a Health Crisis
Though many doctors hesitate to provide medical marijuana as treatment to patients, most will willingly provide pharmaceutical painkillers. Unfortunately, this has led to such a high rate of opioid mortality that the United States has a serious health crisis on its hands. Though the government has tried to combat the avoidable deaths by implementing prescription monitoring programs and through other methods, its efforts have been largely ineffective.
Nothing has worked to lower the number of painkiller deaths, that is, until the legalization of medical marijuana. Patients become addicted to opioids, like OxyContin, Percocet, morphine and Vicodin, and take more and more pills, which leads to overdoses. But marijuana is far less addictive and almost impossible to overdose on; therefore, the patients who make the switch to cannabis for their pain relief reduce their likelihood of overdose significantly.
Though the link between the drop in painkiller deaths and legalized medical marijuana is significant, causation hasn’t been proven and experts are at odds. More studies will need to be conducted on possible factors for the overdose drop in order to have a real answer. But until then, it seems promising that legalizing medical cannabis is not only good for individual health, but also good for society as a whole.