Study: Legal Medical Cannabis Lowers Opioid Use

The pharmaceutical industry is generally among the biggest opponents of legalized marijuana for a reason. Interestingly enough, legal marijuana now polls at 55 to 60 percent majority support in the United States. If the country was a democracy instead of mainly a plutocracy, issues with majority support such as that one would be acted on much differently than is done today.

States that have approved medical cannabis laws saw a dramatic reduction in opioid use, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Georgia.

In a paper published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Internal Medicine, researchers examined the number of all opioid prescriptions filled between 2010 and 2015 under Medicare Part D, the prescription drug benefit plan available to Medicare enrollees.

In states with medical cannabis dispensaries, the researchers observed a 14.4 percent reduction in use of prescription opioids and nearly a 7 percent reduction in opiate prescriptions filled in states with home-cultivation-only medical cannabis laws.

“Some of the states we analyzed had medical cannabis laws throughout the five-year study period, some never had medical cannabis, and some enacted medical cannabis laws during those five years,” said W. David Bradford, study co-author and Busbee Chair in Public Policy in the UGA School of Public and International Affairs. “So, what we were able to do is ask what happens to physician behavior in terms of their opiate prescribing if and when medical cannabis becomes available.”

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The researches concede that if medical cannabis is to become an effective treatment, there is still much work to be done. Scientists are only just beginning to understand the effects of the compounds contained in cannabis, and an effective “dose” of cannabis would need to be defined clearly so that each patient receives a consistent dose.

“Regardless, our findings suggest quite clearly that medical cannabis could be one useful tool in the policy arsenal that can be used to diminish the harm of prescription opioids, and that’s worthy of serious consideration,” David Bradford said.

It should also be noted that marijuana can come with its own harms, particularly if smoked. Competent studies have consistently found for the last few years that marijuana smoke is about as harmful and perhaps even more harmful than tobacco smoke. In light of this, non-combustible alternatives such as the marijuana edibles should be recommended much more for those needing pain relief.