By Steve Elliott
States which have legalized medical marijuana for chronic pain have significantly fewer overdose deaths from prescription painkillers, according to a new study published on Monday in the JAMA Internal Medicine, the journal of the American Medical Association.
Scientists looked at medicinal cannabis laws and death certificate data in all 50 states between 1999 and 2010, reports Saundra Young at CNN. During that period, 13 states had medical marijuana laws in place.
"We found there was about a 25 percent lower rate of prescription painkiller overdose deaths on average after implementation of a medical marijuana law," said lead study author Dr. Marcus Bachhuber.
In 2010 alone, marijuana saved 1,700 lives in states which permit its medicinal use, based on the number of overdose deaths that would have been expected before such laws were passed, according to the study.
"It can be challenging for people to control chronic pain, so I think the more options we have, the better," Bachhuber, who has treated many chronic pain patients as a primary care doctor at Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center, said. "But I think it's important, of course, to weigh the risks and benefits of medical marijuana."