Medical marijuana saves lives is not just a slogan. That simple truth was verified in a study released earlier this month by Dr. Thomas M. Clark of Indiana University.
According to Clark’s research, 47,500 American lives could be saved each year if medical marijuana were legalized nationally. To put that number in perspective, about 60,000 U.S. citizens die each year from drug overdose and about 45,000 die annually from suicide.
Clark, who is the chair of IU’s Department of Biology, concluded his research with a ringing indictment of America’s prohibition laws:
Cannabis use prevents thousands of premature deaths each year, and cannabis prohibition is revealed as a major cause of premature death in the U.S.
The study backs up earlier scientific research that cannabis has only “moderate” adverse effects.
“Cannabis use on physical health are subtle and rarely fatal, while cannabis use is associated with decreased rates of obesity, diabetes mellitus, mortality from traumatic brain injury, use of alcohol and prescription drugs, driving fatalities, and opioid overdose deaths,” according to Clark “These data suggest that cannabis use may decrease premature deaths. To date, no studies have attempted to estimate impacts of Cannabis use on premature death that include both adverse and beneficial effects on physical health.”
Clark’s analysis of the data “strongly suggest that cannabis prohibition is a significant failure of public health policy, causing more harm than benefit.”
The biology professor said that cannabis prohibition:
- Increases the mortality rate
- Contributes to the largest per capita prison population in the world
- Interferes with pursuit of promising medical research
- Results in the loss of billions in potential tax revenues
- Empowers violent drug cartels thus destabilizing governments of neighboring countries
- Causes extensive economic and electoral disenfranchisement of the most vulnerable U.S. communities.
According to the study, America’s refusal to legalize medical marijuana on a national level is responsible for an estimated minimum of 6,100 to 9,000 deaths annually due to lack of access to the herb, in addition to the increased deaths from cancer, diabetes mellitus, and traumatic brain injury arising from a decrease in the numbers of people using marijuana. His study also found that prohibition is estimated to lead to similar numbers of premature deaths as drunk driving, homicide, or fatal opioid overdose.
Clark hopes his study changes how scientists in the future analyze cannabis. “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,” he said. ” This does not, of course, mean that cannabis has no harmful effects, just that beneficial effects may outweigh harmful effects on physical health.”
The full paper can be downloaded here.