(CBS SF) — A new study of states which have implemented medical marijuana laws shows those states also have lower rates of drug overdose deaths.
Researchers at the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center found states allowing medical marijuana usage had 25 percent fewer overdose deaths from both prescription painkillers such as hydrocodone or oxycontin and illicit drugs such as heroin.
The study, published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine, showed that medical marijuana use translated to about 1,700 fewer overdose deaths just in 2010 alone.
Other studies have shown cannabis to be a useful painkiller for patients who don’t respond well to conventional painkillers.
The study authors did not directly attribute the drop in fatal overdoses to marijuana, but suggested pot laws could be part of an overall plan to minimize overdose risks:
“In summary, although we found a lower mean annual rate of opioid analgesic mortality in states with medical cannabis laws, a direct causal link cannot be established. … If the relationship between medical cannabis laws and opioid analgesic overdose mortality is substantiated in further work, enactment of laws to allow for use of medical cannabis may be advocated as part of a comprehensive package of policies to reduce the population risk of opioid analgesics.”
A 2011 University of California, San Francisco study showed patients with chronic pain could find greater relief if their doctors add cannabinoids (the chemical compounds in marijuana) to an opiates-only treatment.
The UCSF doctors found combining cannabinoids with opiates reduced pain more than using opiates alone.
Currently, California and 22 other states along with the District of Columbia have enacted laws to legalize medical marijuana.