In states that have legalized medical marijuana, cannabis has proven to be an effective painkiller and opioid alternative. Not only can cannabis treat opioid addiction, but new research shows how medical marijuana can fight opioid crisis by curbing the number of opioid prescriptions. Here are the findings from two separate studies that reach the same conclusion.
The First Study: Medicaid Prescriptions
Two studies published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine link medical marijuana to a decrease in opioid use. The two studies look at opioid use for Medicaid and Medicare card holders, respectively. Both studies assume that opioid prescription is largely responsible for the opioid epidemic.
The first study compares Medicaid patients in states that have legalized marijuana, versus states without medical cannabis. They found that between 2011 and 2016, states with legal medical marijuana for pain relief had a 6 percent lower opioid prescription rate.
Additionally, states that have legalized recreational marijuana had an opioid prescription rate about 6 percent lower than those with medical marijuana.
As explained one of the study’s authors, Hefei Wen from the University of Kentucky, “That suggests the medical marijuana laws didn’t reach some people who could benefit from using marijuana instead of opioids.”
Not only is medical marijuana highly beneficial for people experiencing pain, but recreational marijuana gives people even better access to marijuana as a pain reliever.
Only lower-income Americans qualify for Medicaid, which ensured fewer variables in the study. Furthermore, the study considers data from each quarter, meaning that if a state legalized medical or recreational marijuana, analysts would place the data in a different category.
The Second Study: Medicare Prescriptions
New research shows how medical marijuana can fight opioid crisis in the second study on Medicare patients, too. This study accumulated data annually between 2011 and 2015. It only considered the prescriptions given to Medicare patients, meaning those who are over 65 and the disabled.
The findings of the second study echo those of the first. There were 14 percent fewer opioid doses per day in the 14 states with medical marijuana dispensaries (and 9 more that legalized over the course of the study).
This study also compared states with dispensaries to those that only allow you to grow marijuana at home. The state without dispensaries had a 7 percent decrease in daily opioid doses compared to states without any medical marijuana legislation.
What does this mean for medical marijuana legalization?
Some lawmakers, including Jeff Sessions, have linked marijuana to an increase in opioid addiction. These studies demonstrate what may marijuana users already know: Not only does medical marijuana not contribute to the opioid epidemic, but it diminishes opioid prescriptions.
As opioid prescriptions are the leading cause of opioid addiction, these findings are hugely significant to pain regulation practices in America.
They also could have an effect on marijuana legalization. As the University of Georgia in Athens economist W. David Bradford explained to the New York Post, “[the benefits of medical marijuana are] now hard to ignore.”
Bradford supports medical marijuana use for pain management.
Some Experts Are Not Convinced
Other doctors, such as Dr. Andrew Saxon and Dr. Kevin Hill of the University of Washington and Harvard Medical School, respectively, don’t believe that these findings apply to all Americans because they only consider Medicare and Medicaid users.
Additionally, the data doesn’t tell us whether people with access to medical marijuana use fewer opioids. We only know that doctors wrote fewer prescriptions.
Final Hit: New Research Shows How Medical Marijuana Can Fight Opioid Crisis
These two studies show that access to medical marijuana significantly decreases the number of opioid prescriptions.
While the data does not say whether this necessarily contributes to less opioid abuse, other studies prove that marijuana legalization decreases opioid-related deaths.
All in all, these two studies demonstrate that marijuana is an effective painkiller and a great alternative to opioids. And that the government should facilitate medical marijuana research.