The life expectancy for Americans declined for the second year in a row, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. The cause? The widespread misuse of legal and illegal painkiller drugs.

It’s probably no secret by now. The Trump administration declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency last October. Since then, a much-need spotlight has been directed on a national crisis. But what are the solutions?

One study suggests an answer that might surprise some: medical marijuana.

That’s right. A decade-long study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that states with medical marijuana laws experienced a dramatic decrease in opioid prescription-related overdoses.

The study

scientist looking at a microscope - medical marijuana - CC101

A team of researchers from the University of Pennsylvania conducted a “time-series” study on painkiller overdose deaths. The study involved all 50 states from 1999 to 2010. The objective of the study was to explore the relationship between medical marijuana laws and opioid deaths. And to examine if these laws had any impact on opioid overdose death rates.

When researchers first began the study in 1999, only three states had medical cannabis laws. Over the course of the study, 10 additional states enacted medical cannabis laws. This group includes Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

The outcome of the discovery might shock some.

States with medical cannabis laws, on average, had 24.8% fewer opioid deaths than states without medical marijuana laws. States with medical marijuana laws, or states that went on to enact medical marijuana laws, experienced a dramatic drop in opioid overdoses per capita.

The results and what they mean for a country in crisis

a person passed out on pills - medical marijuana - CC101

Since 1999, opioid-related deaths have tripled, and in some states quadrupled, according to the Center for Disease Control. The looming opioid crisis has taken front and center for America’s health and medical agencies.

The CDC reported in their five-year study that:

The U.S. opioid epidemic is continuing. Drug overdose deaths nearly tripled during 1999–2014. In 2014, among 47,055 drug overdose deaths, 61% involved an opioid. From 2014 to 2015, the death rate from synthetic opioids increased by 72.2%, and heroin death rates increased by 20.6%.

Rates of death involving heroin and synthetic opioids other than methadone increased across all demographic groups, regions, and in numerous states.

As the opioid crisis grows severe,  policy experts have been racing to search for a solution to the spiraling crisis. As expected, traditional methods of fighting addiction, like law enforcement and treatment centers, have not slowed the crisis.

 

According to this study, part of the solution may be hiding in plain sight: medical marijuana as an alternative to dangerous prescription drugs.

Out of 50 states, only 13 of them had medical marijuana laws by the end of the study. If 13 of those states experienced a 25% drop in opioid deaths, there is reason to believe that medical marijuana laws could potentially be saving tens of thousands of lives, if not more.

a graph shows an increase of drug overdose - medical marijuana - CC101

Source: CDC

A natural solution to a man-made crisis?

The good news is that the American Medical Association is not alone. There appears to be a growing consensus of research that supports medical marijuana as a safer alternative to prescription painkillers and opioids.

A separate study published by the Harm Reduction Journal last year found that patients with access to medical marijuana used fewer opioids, or stopped using them altogether.

Studies like these continue to reaffirm what many are already suspecting. Medical marijuana’s potential for pain-relief can become a natural and healthier alternative to dangerous and addictive opioids.

Hopefully, health officials and lawmakers will wake up and start smelling the coffee… and weed for that matter.

What about you? Do you think that medical marijuana is a safer alternative to prescription painkillers?

 

cannabis plant - medical marijuana - CC101