States that allow legal use of medical marijuana have lower rates of fatal overdoses from prescription medications.

A new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found the 13 states where medical marijuana is legal had 24.8 percent fewer annual opioid overdose mortality rates.

The results indicate alternative treatments may be safer for patients suffering from chronic pain, researchers said.

About 60 percent of all deaths from opioid overdoses happen in patients who have legitimate prescriptions, and the number of patients who are prescribed opioids for non-cancer pain has nearly doubled over the last decade.

Deaths were nearly 20 percent lower in the first year after a state legalized medical marijuana and 33.7 percent lower five years later.

Researchers said the drop may indicate marijuana is safer for treating chronic pain, but they said the laws may also change the way people misuse or abuse opioid painkillers because both drugs stimulate similar areas in the brain’s pathways.

The researchers examined whether drug monitoring programs or patient ID requirements had reduced painkiller abuse in states with legalized medical marijuana but found no significant connection.

If additional studies confirm their findings, the researchers said medical marijuana laws could be promoted as a means to reduce prescription painkiller abuse.

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