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Marijuana Legalization Could Prevent 47,500 Premature Deaths Every Year

A recently published paper claims nationwide cannabis prohibition is a significant contributor to premature death in the U.S.

Cannabis use prevents thousands of premature deaths every year in the United States, according to a new analysis by an investigator at Indiana University South Bend. Dr. Thomas M. Clark, Professor and Chair of the university’s Department of Biology, conducted a systematic review, meta-analysis, and narrative summary of effects of cannabis use on mortality. He found that cannabis use significantly reduces premature deaths from diabetes, cancer, and traumatic brain injury (TBI), and suggested that those numbers would be much higher if there were nationwide legal access to medical marijuana.

“Cannabis use appears to prevent approximately 17,400 to 38,500 premature deaths annually under current policies,” wrote Clark. “The analysis predicts an estimated 23,500 to 47,500 deaths prevented annually if medical marijuana were legal nationwide.”

As of now, 29 U.S. states and Washington D.C. have passed laws permitting the medical use of marijuana. The regulations vary between states, with some significantly more restrictive than others.

The review cites evidence of cannabis use leading to “significant positive health outcomes,” including studies linking cannabis use to lower rates of obesity. Legal cannabis’s influence on the obesity epidemic alone would impact the premature death rates of a number of health, the report claims, “including cancer, cardiovascular disease, chronic kidney disease, diabetes mellitus, and Alzheimer’s disease.”

Clark’s analysis estimates that the minimum number of deaths annually due to a lack of legal access to medical marijuana is 6,1000 to 9,000. That estimation is only in relation to cancer, diabetes mellitus, and TBI. Marijuana use is estimated to reduce premature deaths from those three conditions by between 989 and 2,511 deaths for each 1 percent of the population that uses cannabis.

“Overall, prohibition is estimated to lead to similar numbers of premature deaths as drunk driving, homicide, or fatal opioid overdose,” Clark said.

The analysis also examines the impact of federal prohibition on prison population. According to Clark, prohibition plays a significant role in contributing to the largest per capita prison population in the world. International Centre for Prison Studies has calculated that prison rates in the U.S. are the world’s highest, at 724 people per 100,000.

Nationwide prohibition also severely hinders medical research efforts and results in the loss of billions in potential tax revenue. A pair of studies conducted earlier this year found that the legalization of medical marijuana would significantly reduce prescriptions for Medicaid and Medicare enrollees and save billions in tax dollars.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and other Trump administration officials have made efforts to undo federal government protections of medical marijuana and actively inhibit research efforts, despite public attitudes regarding cannabis having shifted significantly toward acceptance and legalization expanding throughout the country,

“Based on the results of this extensive review of the evidence, it is time to change the discussion, from determining how much harm is caused by Cannabis use, to determining how many deaths are prevented by Cannabis use.”

You can access the entire 53-page analysis, “Cannabis use is associated with a substantial reduction in premature deaths in the United States,” through IUScholarWorks.

Learn more about the current medical cannabis laws in the U.S. and the research that has investigated the benefits of cannabis by visiting our education page.

Post by Eve Ripley

Eve is a writer specializing in cannabis education and editorials related to cannabis industry news.

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