The legalization of medical marijuana appears to have contributed to lowering rates of opioid abuse, according to two new studies.
The research states that some people may be looking at marijuana as a means of treating their pain, instead of using painkillers. This means they avoid getting addicted to more dangerous drugs, NPR reports. These are the latest findings to provide evidence towards the idea that some people are willing to use marijuana as a substitute for opioids and other prescription medications.
Many patients tend to abuse painkillers after starting off with legitimate prescriptions. The researchers behind the studies suggest that people who avoid getting a prescription in the first place are less likely to end up being a part of the addiction epidemic.
- David Bradford, a professor of public policy at the University of Georgia, said, “We do know that cannabis is much less risky than opiates, as far as likelihood of dependency. And certainly there’s no mortality risk.”
The National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine adds credence to the whole idea, saying that there is proof that cannabis is effective at managing and treating pain for certain conditions.
Bradford and three colleagues, including his daughter, decided to check on whether people who can access medical marijuana are less likely to go for prescription opioids. “There are substantial reductions in opiate use” in states that have legal dispensaries for medical marijuana, Bradford pointed out.
The scientists looked at data from Medicare, which primarily gives insurance coverage to patients over the age of 65. They found a 14% reduction in opioid prescriptions in states that allow people to easily purchase medical marijuana.
An estimate pegs that dispensaries reduced the number of opioid prescriptions by 3.7 million doses daily. States that allow homegrown marijuana for medical purposes resulted in an estimated 1.8 million fewer pills prescribed per day.
But there might be other factors at work, aside from just marijuana use, Bradford and team acknowledge. However, these findings suggest that expanding access to cannabis could actually help ease the ongoing opioid crisis.
The study was published in JAMA Internal Medicine.