POLITICS

Here's How Many People Fatally Overdosed On Marijuana Last Year

The rate has held steady from previous years.
12/28/2015 04:08 PM ET
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Updated Dec 30, 2015

With marijuana now legal in some form throughout 23 states, the number of Americans who fatally overdosed on the drug last year was significant: 

The rate of absolutely zero deaths from a marijuana overdose remained steady from last year, according to figures released this month by the Centers for Disease Control. But while Americans aren't dying as a result of marijuana overdoses, the same can't be said for a range of other substances, both legal and illicit.   

CDC

A total of 17,465 people died from overdosing on illicit drugs like heroin and cocaine last year, while 25,760 people died from overdosing on prescription drugs, including painkillers and tranquilizers like Valium, according to CDC figures. 

Opioid overdose levels rose so sharply in 2014 -- spiking 14 percent from the previous year -- the CDC described the levels as "epidemic."

"More persons died from drug overdoses in the United States in 2014 than during any previous year on record," the CDC reported earlier this month.

CDC

Alcohol, an even more accessible substance, is killing Americans at a rate not seen in roughly 35 years, according to a Washington Post analysis of federal data. The more than 30,700 Americans who died from alcohol-induced causes last year doesn't include alcohol-related deaths like drunk driving or accidents; if it did, the death toll would be more than two and a half times higher.

According to a widely cited 2006 report in American Scientist, "alcohol is more lethal than many other commonly abused substances." The report further puts the lethality of various substances in perspective:  

Drinking a mere 10 times the normal amount of alcohol within 5 or 10 minutes can prove fatal, whereas smoking or eating marijuana might require something like 1,000 times the usual dose to cause death. 

Though marijuana has yet to lead to a fatal overdose in the U.S., it does have the potential to be abused and lead to dangerous behaviors like drugged driving -- but taking too much will likely lead to, if anything, a really bad trip. 

Despite the changing tide in American attitudes toward marijuana for both therapeutic and recreational uses, legalization is still vigorously opposed by groups like the pharmaceutical lobby (who stand to lose big if patients turn to medical marijuana for treatment) and police unions (who stand to lose federal funding for the war on drugs). 

Even among 2016 presidential contenders, Democratic hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is the only candidate from either party to support outright legalization of marijuana by removing it from the federal list of Schedule 1 drugs, which includes substances like heroin and LSD. 

CORRECTION: This article previously mischaracterized Valium as a painkiller. It is used as a tranquilizer and in the treatment of anxiety-related conditions.

Also on HuffPost: 

Top 50 Most Influential Marijuana Users

1 50: Snoop Lion
Koen van Weel/AFP/Getty Images
2 49: Rick Steves
AP
3 48: Oliver Stone
YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images
4 47: Rihanna
VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images
5 46: Hugh Hefner
Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Playboy
6 45: Miley Cyrus
AP Photo/MTV, John Shearer
7 44: Bryan Cranston
Neilson Barnard/Getty Images
8 43: Robert Downey Jr
Joel Ryan/Invision/AP, file
9 42: Madonna
AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia
10 41: Johnny Depp
AP
11 40: Phil Jackson
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
12 39. Sarah Palin
ASSOCIATED PRESS
13 38: Justin Bieber
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
14 37: Maya Angelou
AP Photo/Nell Redmond, file
15 36: Lincoln Chafee
AP Photo/Michelle R. Smith
16 35: Matt Damon
AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau, File)
17 34: Conan O'Brien
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
18 33: Susan Sarandon
Larry Busacca/Getty Images
19 32: Andrew Sullivan
Peter Kramer/Getty Images for TFF)
20 31: John Hickenlooper
David Cannon/Getty Images
21 30: Seth MacFarlane
AP Photo/Matt Sayles
22 29: Martha Stewart
Getty Images
23 28: Angelina Jolie
TORU YAMANAKA/AFP/Getty Images
24 27: Morgan Freeman
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for AFI
25 26: David Letterman
AP Photo/CBS, John Paul Filo
26 25: Jennifer Aniston
Arthur Mola/Invision/AP
27 24: Michael Phelps
Al Bello/Getty Images
28 23: Tom Brokaw
Kris Connor/Getty Images
29 22: Ted Turner
Michael Loccisano/Getty Images
30 21: Brad Pitt
Todd Williamson/Invision for Fox Searchlight/AP Images
31 20: Lady Gaga
D Dipasupil/Getty Images for The Daily Front Row
32 19: Michael Bloomberg
Andy Kropa/Invision/AP
33 18: George Clooney
AP Photo/David Azia
34 17: Rush Limbaugh
AP Photo/Chris Carlson, file
35 16: LeBron James
AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File
36 15: Sanjay Gupta
Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File
37 14. Rand Paul
ASSOCIATED PRESS
38 13: Andrew Cuomo
Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images
39 12: George W. Bush
AP Photo/LM Otero
40 11: Bill Gates
AP Photo / Jonathan Brady
41 10: Bill Maher
AP Photo/HBO, Janet Van Ham
42 9: George Soros
ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images
43 8: John Kerry
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
44 7: Jay Z
Charles Sykes/Invision/AP, File
45 6: Jon Stewart
Charles Sykes/Invision/AP, File
46 5: Stephen Colbert
AP Photo/Comedy Central, Scott Gries
47 4: Clarence Thomas
AP Photo/Tribune Review, Sidney Davis
48 3: Bill Clinton
STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images
49 2: Oprah Winfrey
Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File
50 1: Barack Obama
Alex Wong/Getty Images