While activists may find news that cannabis can help curb rates of opioid addiction about as shocking as revelations that Donald Trump tortures kittens (would you even blink an eye?), a new study by the Columbia University Medical Center offers encouraging evidence nonetheless that the medical community is getting hip to the legitimacy of cannabis (cue: a big gulp from the pharma lobby). A few weeks ago, Columbia published a study in the American Journal of Public Health, showing that fewer drivers who tested positive for opioids were killed in car crashes in states with medical marijuana laws than before the laws went into effect. Perhaps the most riveting statistic that the group discovered was a 25% decline in deaths among drivers between the ages of 21 and 40 in those states.
How exactly did the group reach its conclusions? By digging deep into the data. They pored over information compiled by the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) between the years of 1999 and 2013, in eighteen of the US states that have since enacted medical marijuana legislation. Even though they only used data collected an hour or less after the crash took place, they still came up with almost 70,000 case studies. The team, led by June H. Kim, a doctoral student in the Department of Epidemiology at Columbia, painstakingly comparing statistic from different states and different demographics before discovering that the most dramatic results were in those younger than forty.
Studies like this, which help legitimize the idea of medical marijuana as an alternative to opioids, could very well point the way towards a further laxity of laws. “We would expect the adverse consequences of opioid use to decrease over time in states where medical marijuana use is legal, as individuals substitute marijuana for opioids in the treatment of severe or chronic pain,” explained Kim. While the study is written in barely digestible language, blander than Mike Pence and more sleep-inducing than an ounce of Blue Mystic, its message is clear: change is coming. And more importantly, as the country continues to reel from escalating rates of opioid overdoses and deaths, that change could save lives.