Is medical marijuana reducing opioid overdose mortality?

States that have enacted medical cannabis laws have seen an overall 24.8% mean drop in state-level opioid overdose mortality rates.

States with permissive medical marijuana laws have lower opioid overdose mortality.
States with permissive medical marijuana laws have lower opioid overdose mortality.

HealthDay News -- There is a correlation between a reduction in state-level opioid overdose mortality rates and state-level cannabis laws, according to researchers.

“Because chronic pain is a major indication for medical cannabis, laws that establish access to medical cannabis may change overdose mortality related to opioid analgesics in states that have enacted them,” wrote Marcus A Bachhuber, MD, of the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and colleagues in JAMA Internal Medicine.

In an effort to examine the correlation between the presence of state medical cannabis laws and opioid analgesic overdose mortality, the investigators performed a time-series analysis of medical cannabis laws and state-level death certificate data from 1999 to 2010 in all 50 states.

Compared with states without medical cannabis laws, states with laws had a 24.8% lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate (P=0.003). In each year after implementation, these laws correlated with a lower rate of overdose mortality that generally strengthened over time (Table 1).


Table 1: Rate of change in opioid overdose mortality in states with medical marijuana laws

Years after medical cannabis law implementation Change in overdose mortality
Year 1 -19.9%
Year 2 -25.2%
Year 3 −23.6%
Year 4 -20.2%
Year 5 −33.7%
Year 6 -33.3%

“Further investigation is required to determine how medical cannabis laws may interact with policies aimed at preventing opioid analgesic overdose,” wrote the researchers.

References

  1. Bachhuber M et al. JAMA Internal Medicine.2014; doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.4005
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