The studies were published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine, with both of them comparing "opioid prescription patterns in states that have enacted medical cannabis laws with those that have not". "We do know that cannabis is much less risky than opiates, as far as likelihood of dependency", W. David Bradford told NPR.
"Marijuana liberalization may serve as a component of a comprehensive package to tackle the opioid epidemic", Wen and Hockenberry concluded.
"State implementation of medical marijuana laws was associated with a 5.88 percent lower rate of opioid prescribing".
According to CNN, the United States is entangled in the worst opioid epidemic the world has ever seen, but two recent studies suggest medical marijuana can be quite a powerful tool in the fight to bring that epidemic to an end. That's about 39 fewer prescriptions per 1,000 people using Medicaid.
"This longitudinal analysis of Medicare Part D found that prescriptions filled for all opioids decreased by 2.11 million daily doses per year from an average of 23.08 million daily doses per year when a state instituted any medical cannabis law". So that doesn't count people using illegal opioids or folks who don't use Medicare or large parts of the population that are under 65.
This means that allowing the use of cannabis for medical purposes may encourage lower prescription opioid use and reduce the harm in the opioid crisis, the study said, noting that the finding was "particularly strong" in states that permit dispensaries.
The studies couldn't prove cause and effect. So, the researchers' estimated decline shows a slow down instead of a drop in total consumption, according to Bradford.
Olfson said a study needs to be conducted that follows individuals and determines whether or not marijuana use is a good substitute for opioids, but it's hard to conduct such a study because of the restrictions the federal government puts on marijuana research. But another study published in the same journal this week showed similar findings. Medicaid provides health insurance at a low cost to people and families who are economically vulnerable.
In the first study, investigators from the University of Kentucky and Emory University assessed the association between medical and adult-use marijuana laws with opioid prescribing rates and spending among Medicaid enrollees.
"Like any drug in our FDA-approved pharmacopeia, it can be misused", he said.
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