In addition to growing tax benefits and rising ice cream sales, a new study shows that the legalization of marijuana has lowered the rate of fatal opiate overdoses. In states with legal marijuana 33% fewer individuals die from opiates. In the first year alone, there is a 20% drop. This news means that legal marijuana could save thousands of lives every year.

 

VA Reports Falling Opiate Overdose Rates

The study, which was conducted by a group of scientists led by Philadelphia Veteran’s Affairs Dr. Marcus Bachhuber, took a look at synthetic opiate abuse in states with legal medical marijuana. In the words of Dr. Bachhuber, “Medical cannabis laws are associated with significantly lower state level opioid overdose mortality rates… In absolute terms, states with a medical marijuana law had about 1,700 fewer opioid painkiller overdose deaths in 2010 than would be expected…”

Marijuana Used as an Alternative to Opiates

Experts have theorized that part of the reason for the decline in deaths is the possibility that opiate users are managing their pain with marijuana. There has been a long history of the use of medical marijuana for pain in recent years, and doctors have found an entire system of receptors, called the endocannabinoid system, which is closely tied with how pain is perceived. Rather than opiates, which dull pain away to nothing, marijuana helps patients to ignore it. That difference, while it might seem small, opens the doors for entire new classes of painkillers with fewer side-effects.

Benefits for the Bottom

The fact is that you are vastly more likely to die from an opiate overdose if you’re an addict. You’re also more likely to be homeless, have hepatitis or AIDS, or be malnourished. Marijuana is helping some of the most vulnerable members of our society, and it’s doing so almost immediately. To put the numbers in perspective, legalizing marijuana does as much good for individuals addicted to opiates as harm reduction programs do.

Are Opiate Addiction Rates Next?

Although this study was unclear, the pro-legalization camp will want to find out whether or not legally available marijuana decreases addiction to other drugs. It could provide an easy wedge for this politically-charged issue. In fact, the anti-marijuana camp argues that the herb is a “gateway drug” that causes addiction. Future studies may prove that theory to be completely wrong.

Medical Marijuana is Here to Stay

Currently medical marijuana is legal in 27 states, while marijuana use is legal in its entirely in 3 and the District of Columbia. These states comprise an estimated 53% of the population of opiate addicts. While there are cases pending against the legality of medical marijuana in a handful of states, for the most part medical marijuana is a growing trend. Marijuana is still a controlled substance under Federal law, but although there has been no formal ruling, its use is generally tolerated with a prescription.