The government has released new data on marijuana overdose deaths, and the numbers are staggering: For roughly the 5,000th year in a row, literally no one dropped dead from smoking pot.
The new statistics cover 2014 and were released in late December by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. They demonstrate, conclusively, that cannabis doesn’t kill people by overdose. It can contribute to car crashes, and occasionally people die as a result of the black market, but otherwise the drug simply isn’t fatal – ever.
That isn’t true of other drugs, legal and otherwise. According to the CDC, more than 17,000 people died from using illegal drugs such as cocaine and heroin, and another 26,000 succumbed to prescription drug overdoses – more than died from homicide and almost as many as died in auto collisions.
Opioid painkillers remain biggest cause of overdose
The leading cause of prescription overdose remains legal opioid painkillers such as Vicodin and Percocet, but other drugs cause deaths, such as Xanax and fellow benzodiazepine tranquilizers. The rate of overdoses caused by opiates and their synthetic cousins, opioids, rose 14 percent in 2014, faster than in any previous year on record and at a rate the CDC called “epidemic.”
“More persons died from drug overdoses in the United States in 2014 than during any previous year on record,” the agency’s report said.
Deaths from alcohol also spiked in 2014, rising to a level last seen more than three decades ago, according to a recent report in The Washington Post. More than 30,700 people died of booze-related causes, not including drunk driving, alcohol-related homicides, or accidents. If those numbers were included, the death toll from alcohol would be nearly 80,000, almost twice as many people as die by suicide.
Alcohol is most lethal commonly abused substance
Alcohol is so harmful in large part because it is legal and widely available. Marijuana, on the other hand, causes far less harm in both the short and long terms, yet remains prohibited in most places.
Alcohol is “more lethal than many other commonly abused substances,” according to a report from 2006. The same study concluded that fatal alcohol poisoning can result from drinking just 10 times the recommended amount within five or 10 minutes. A deadly marijuana overdose, on the other hand, would require consumption of thousands of joints, also in a matter of minutes. No one has ever come close.
That said, cannabis still has the potential to kill, if only in roundabout ways. Fatal car crashes involving marijuana are relatively rare, at least compared to alcohol-related highway fatalities. But collisions involving both cannabis and another drug – especially booze – can dramatically amplify the risk of death.
Simply consuming the drug, however, will never kill you. It is not known to cause any form of cancer, including lung and throat cancer, and the worst reported effect is chronic bronchitis, usually in the form of a minor cough that won’t go away.
The new numbers could help legalization advocates push back against opponents who argue that marijuana is an especially dangerous drug. But if the past is any guide, the anti-weed crowd is unlikely to back down anytime soon.