Recent studies have shown that opioid prescription rates have dropped significantly in states where medical marijuana is legalized.
As more and more states make medical and recreational marijuana legal, it is evident that it is having a positive effect on the opioid crisis, offering patients with pain an alternative to pills.
It’s an issue David Bradford, an economist at the University of Georgia, knows well.
“I think the evidence is beginning to mount that when medical cannabis becomes an option for people that they do divert away from opioids,” Bradford said.
In a 2018 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, Bradford and his team examined opioid prescription rates for Medicare Part D patients, comparing states with medical marijuana laws — and those without — over a five year period.
“Let’s look at how doctors prescribing changed in states that turned on medical cannabis laws and compare that change to how doctors prescribed in states that didn’t prescribe medical cannabis,” Bradford said of the methodology.
The study found states with easy access to medical marijuana through active dispensaries had 14.4 percent fewer opioid prescriptions compared to states without the laws.
In states which only permitted home cultivation, there was a 6.9 percent drop in opioid use. A companion study published in the same issue of JAMA Internal Medicine also recorded a drop among Medicaid patients.
“Our study did not measure whether Medicare (or Medicaid) enrollees were actually switching to cannabis when they reduced their opioid consumption,” Bradford said. “We just observed opioid prescriptions falling after medical cannabis was legalized compare to consumption in states that did not legalize cannabis. Unfortunately, the data that has prescription use doesn’t have medical cannabis use, and vice versa.”
Bradford has applied for a grant with the National Institute of Health to expand the patient group and study the impact on individuals with private insurance.