Penn Study: Medical Marijuana Saves Lives

States that legalize it see fewer overdoses from painkiller pills.

Medical marijuana saves lives.

A new study from Penn researchers shows that states where medical marijuana is legal see lower rates of overdoses from opioid analgesics — that is, painkillers like OxyContin, Percocet and Vicodin.

From a press release on the research:

On average, states allowing the medical use of marijuana have lower rates of deaths resulting from opioid analgesic overdoses than states without such laws. Opioid analgesics, such as OxyContin, Percocet and Vicodin, are prescribed for moderate to severe pain, and work by suppressing a person’s perception of pain. A new multi-institutional study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine and led by researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, examined the rate of deaths caused by opioid overdoses between 1999 and 2010. Results reveal that on average, the 13 states allowing the use of medical marijuana had a 24.8 percent lower annual opioid overdose mortality rate after the laws were enacted than states without the laws, indicating that the alternative treatment may be safer for patients suffering from chronic pain related to cancer and other conditions.

While noting that evidence for the pain-relieving properties of cannabis is limited, some studies have suggested “it may provide relief for some individuals,” said lead author, Marcus A. Bachhuber, MD, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholar at Penn and the Philadelphia VA Medical Center. “In addition, people already taking opioids for pain may supplement with medical marijuana and be able to lower their painkiller dose, thus lowering their risk of overdose.

Pennsylvania, incidentally, is not yet a state that has legalized medical marijuana. Gov. Corbett opposes current legislation to make it legal, but has said he would support a controlled research project. Seems the Penn folks are way ahead of him.