Researchers have analyzed prescription data from Medicare Part D and Medicaid from the past five years and discovered that opioid prescriptions and the average daily dose of opioids patients took were significantly lower in areas where marijuana is legal.
One study honed in on opioid prescriptions covered by Medicare Part D between 2010 and 2015, while the other focused on opioid prescriptions covered by Medicaid between 2011 and 2016. A 2014 paper discovered that in the states where cannabis use is legal for medical purposes, almost 25 percent fewer deaths from opioid overdoses occurred.
Bradford added that "there are substantial reductions in opiate use" in states that have made medical marijuana legal, with a 14 percent decrease in prescriptions based on Medicare data.
He said these studies and others offer strong support for anecdotal evidence from patients who report they need fewer opioids for chronic pain when they are put on medical cannabis.
In the overall annual effect size per 1000 Medicaid enrollees, states with medical marijuana laws and adult-use laws saw reductions of 39.41 and 39.67 patients, respectively.
Drug overdoses killed almost 64,000 Americans in 2016, with two-thirds of deaths involving a prescription or illicit opioid, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last week. They also examined the differences between states that allow for home cultivation of medical marijuana and states which have medical marijuana dispensaries.
"Overprescribing of opioids is considered a major driving force behind the opioid epidemic in the United States", wrote the authors of the study, Hefei Wen and Jason Hockenberry.
Studies have found medical pot is effective in treating chronic pain, Bradford said.
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. The switch has been doable but has led to more security issues and logistical headaches, said David Knapp, its co-founder.
Medical marijuana legalization is cutting heavily into opioid rates.
Neither study proves that legalising marijuana causes a decline in opioid prescriptions.
"Our finding that the lower opioid prescribing rates associated with adult-use marijuana laws were pronounced in Schedule II opioids further suggest that reaching these individuals may have greater potential to reduce the adverse consequences, such as opioid use disorder and overdose".
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