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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Medical marijuana can help ease patients’ pain, but apparently, it can also save lives.

According to a recent Penn study, states that allow the use of medical marijuana had a significantly lower rate of opioid analgesic deaths.

Opioid analgesics are prescription drugs such as OxyContin, Percocet and Vicodin that are prescribed for moderate to severe pain.

In the study published in JAMA Internal Medicine and led by researchers at Penn, scientists examined the rate of death from opioid analgesic overdoses between 1999 and 2010.

In the 13 states that allow the use of medical marijuana, the rate of death from opioid analgesics was 24.8% lower after medical marijuana laws were enacted.

According to Penn, about 60 of those who die from an overdose on pain pills have a legitimate prescription. What the research demonstrates is that medical marijuana may be a safe alternative for patients with chronic pain who would otherwise be using prescription pain pills to treat their condition.

“In addition, people already taking opioids for pain may supplement with medical marijuana and be able to lower their painkiller dose, thus lowering their risk of overdose,” explains lead author, Marcus A. Bachhuber, MD, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholar at Penn and the Philadelphia VA Medical Center.

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