The latest in a string of studies to demonstrate a link between medical marijuana legalization and lower opioid use rates has just been released.
“In this study, we found that statewide medical cannabis legalization implemented in 1993 – 2014 in the US was associated with close to 30% reductions in Schedule III opioids received by Medicaid enrollees,” the researchers, from the University of California San Diego and Weill Cornell Medical College, wrote in the journal Addiction.
Calculating the cost of opioid pain drugs that patients would have otherwise purchased, the study estimated that medical cannabis legalization in states that have so far adopted it saves the federal government $7.46 million in annual Medicaid spending. Add to that an additional $6.54 million in savings for states.
“[I]f all the states had legalized medical cannabis by 2014, Medicaid annual spending on opioid prescriptions would be reduced by 17.8 million dollars,” the study projected.
While the research showed a clear reduction in prescriptions of Schedule III opioids, it did not find a correlation between allowance of medical marijuana and use of drugs classified under the more restrictive Schedule II of the Controlled Substances Act.
“[E]vidence suggested that cannabis provides mild to moderate relief from pain, on par with Codeine, making cannabis a better alternative to Schedule III opioids,” the researchers wrote in the study, published this week. “Although there is emerging evidence suggesting that cannabis is effective in treating severe pain, no studies compared the analgesic efficacy of the cannabinoids with Schedule II opioids. Due to the concern of cannabis’ lack of efficacy on severe pain symptoms, patients prescribed Schedule II opioids might be less likely to switch to medical cannabis and physicians might be less likely to recommend medical cannabis to these patients.”
The new results expand on findings of other studies released earlier this year which found that “medical cannabis laws are associated with significant reductions in opioid prescribing in the Medicare Part D population” and that state marijuana policies “have the potential to lower opioid prescribing for Medicaid enrollees.”