Medical Marijuana Legalization 2016: Weed Could Curb Painkiller Overdose Deaths Up To 25 Percent

Medical marijuana legalization has faced a protracted global fight for legitimacy, but sometime over the last decade, that war started to win out. The controversial medicine’s relationship with painkiller overdose deaths may have bolstered the pro-arguments even further, reported JAMA Internal Medicine.

legalized medical marijuana, painkiller legalization
While 20 states go to the medical marijuana polls this year, it's worth remembering that legalization can be key to providing alternatives to more harmful medication -- among them prescription painkillers. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A study released at the end of 2014 presented a link between legalized medical marijuana and a drop in deaths from painkiller overdoses. Fatalities related to patients overdosing has risen steadily over the last decade as more and more people suffering are given access to the drugs, noted the study. That uptick in PK prescriptions has also had another ugly side effects: teenagers who take the easier-to-access medications like Vicodin and Oxycontin recreationally are more likely to become addicted to harder opiates like heroin later in life, previously reported Inquisitr — something this study also touched on.

“This finding persisted when excluding intentional overdose deaths (ie, suicide), suggesting that medical cannabis laws are associated with lower opioid analgesic overdose mortality among individuals using opioid analgesics for medical indications. Similarly, the association between medical cannabis laws and lower opioid analgesic overdose mortality rates persisted when including all deaths related to heroin, even if no opioid analgesic was present, indicating that lower rates of opioid analgesic overdose mortality were not offset by higher rates of heroin overdose mortality.”

medical marijuana legalization has one more boon in its favor
Medical marijuana legalization could have a potential life-saving effect on those struggling with painkiller addiction. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Though the study’s findings did indicate that legalizing medical marijuana may have an inverse relationship to deaths from painkiller overdoses, its authors did also note that there were some possible flaws with the data. Cause of death, for example, can be reported on differently from state to state, and the amount of doctors who give their patients access to weed can fluctuate significantly from community to community.

Those communities themselves may also skew data with unaccounted for socioeconomic, psychiatric, and racial differences. It also noted that it was possible for marijuana itself to “alter the pharmacokinetics of opioids” and serve as a gateway drug. Furthermore, it only focused on states which passed weed for therapeutic use between 1999 and 2010.

Conclusions about medical marijuana did, however, still seem to be positive in the report. Researches stated that if further data managed to back up these claims, it could be a strong argument for legalization advocates.

“Although the present study provides evidence that medical cannabis laws are associated with reductions in opioid analgesic overdose mortality on a population level, proposed mechanisms for this association are speculative and rely on indirect evidence. Further rigorous evaluation of medical cannabis policies, including provisions that vary among states, is required before their wide adoption can be recommended. 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.”

While the study on painkiller overdose deaths came out more than a year ago, it’s another important detail to remember going into 2016. At least 20 states will be voting on whether or not to legalize medical marijuana this year. Citizens from the following states will head to the ballot box to vote on legal weed: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming, reported SF Gate.

[Image via Sean Gallup/Getty Images]