Opioid Deaths vs. Legal Marijuana

Or, how to save 5800 American lives a year while generating new tax income and reducing crime.

This study came out in 2014:

Medical Cannabis Laws and Opioid Analgesic Overdose Mortality in the United States, 1999-2010

Objective  To determine the association between the presence of state medical cannabis laws and opioid analgesic overdose mortality.

Design, Setting, and Participants  A time-series analysis was conducted of medical cannabis laws and state-level death certificate data in the United States from 1999 to 2010; all 50 states were included.

Exposures  Presence of a law establishing a medical cannabis program in the state.

Main Outcomes and Measures  Age-adjusted opioid analgesic overdose death rate per 100 000 population in each state. Regression models were developed including state and year fixed effects, the presence of 3 different policies regarding opioid analgesics, and the state-specific unemployment rate.

Results  Three states (California, Oregon, and Washington) had medical cannabis laws effective prior to 1999. Ten states (Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and Vermont) enacted medical cannabis laws between 1999 and 2010. States with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8% lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate (95% CI, −37.5% to −9.5%; P = .003) compared with states without medical cannabis laws. Examination of the association between medical cannabis laws and opioid analgesic overdose mortality in each year after implementation of the law showed that such laws were associated with a lower rate of overdose mortality that generally strengthened over time: year 1 (−19.9%; 95% CI, −30.6% to −7.7%; P = .002), year 2 (−25.2%; 95% CI, −40.6% to −5.9%; P = .01), year 3 (−23.6%; 95% CI, −41.1% to −1.0%; P = .04), year 4 (−20.2%; 95% CI, −33.6% to −4.0%; P = .02), year 5 (−33.7%; 95% CI, −50.9% to −10.4%; P = .008), and year 6 (−33.3%; 95% CI, −44.7% to −19.6%; P < .001). In secondary analyses, the findings remained similar.

Conclusions and Relevance  Medical cannabis laws are associated with significantly lower state-level opioid overdose mortality rates. Further investigation is required to determine how medical cannabis laws may interact with policies aimed at preventing opioid analgesic overdose.


OK, so if a state has MEDICAL marijuana legalized, they experience 24.8% lower death rate due to opioid overdose.  This includes both prescription and illegal drug ODs.  If the gateway drug to heroin is marijuana, then ODs should increase with more legal availability.  This suggests that the prescription drugs are the gateway drugs to heroin, and that the availability of marijuana as a substitute pain medication reduces the number of people who take opioids of any kind, and then OD.

The data also suggests that to save a huge number of drug overdose deaths, we just need to make medical marijuana available in the remaining states.  In 2014, over 28,000 Americans died of opioid overdose (data here).  Based on US Census 2014 state population data (here), my back of the envelope calculation is that we could have saved nearly 5800 lives in 2014 if medical marijuana had been legal in the remaining states.

Do our lawmakers know this?  As a comparison, in 2014 there were roughly 33,000 gun deaths (source) and in 2013, 10,000 alcohol related auto accident deaths (source).  It seems bizarre that there is so much debate over gun control, with measures being taken that may or may not have any measurable impact on public health, and very little debate about medical marijuana.  Only kids with seizures seem a compelling reason to legalize.  I think the adults are worth it too.  Bring out the veterans!  They are terribly victimized by opioid addiction.


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Filed under Government, Health, Politics

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