Study: Patients Using Medical Marijuana Significantly Slash Their Intake Of Prescription Painkillers

Steve Birr | Vice Reporter

New data reveals Medicaid patients in states with medical marijuana programs significantly slash their intake of opioid-based pain medications.

Researchers at the University of California San Diego published a study Tuesday in the journal Addiction showing the effect legal pot programs have on the use of Schedule III and Schedule II opioid drugs by Medicaid enrollees, covering a period between 1993 and 2014. The researchers found strong reductions in opioid dosages and the amount of opioid-related costs billed to Medicaid in states with legal marijuana, reports NORML.

The data adds to a growing body of research showing chronic pain patients with access to medical marijuana will substitute their painkillers with pot. (RELATED: New York Approves Medical Marijuana For Pain Patients To Deal With ‘Unprecedented’ Opioid Crisis)

“For Schedule III opioid prescriptions, medical cannabis legalization was associated with a 29.6 percent reduction in number of prescriptions, 29.9 percent reduction in dosage, and 28.8 percent reduction in related Medicaid spending,” the researchers said, according to NORML. “In this study, we found that statewide medical cannabis legalization implemented in 1993-2014 in the U.S. was associated with close to 30 percent reductions in Schedule III opioids received by Medicaid enrollees. … It was estimated that, if all the states had legalized medical cannabis by 2014, Medicaid annual spending on opioid prescriptions would be reduced by 17.8 million dollars.”

Research published June 5 in The Journal of Headache and Pain reveals that 73 percent of chronic pain patients with access to medical marijuana substitute their opioid medications with cannabis.

A study published in 2017 in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence found in states with legal weed hospital visits for complications from prescription painkillers are dropping. The hospitalization rate for opioid abuse and dependence in states with medical marijuana are roughly 23 percent lower than states without legal access.

Emergency room visits for opioid overdoses are on average 13 percent lower than states without medical marijuana programs.

Medical researchers do not claim pot will “solve” the opioid epidemic, but argue marijuana can be an effective alternative to the painkillers that often lead to heroin abuse and death.

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