By Ed Coghlan
While federal health officials continue to resist expanding the study of marijuana for medicinal purposes, data continue to be developed that show maybe there is something to it.
For instance, a study from the University of Georgia showed that if your state has approved the use of medicinal cannabis, there is a quantifiable decline in the use of traditional prescription drugs. The data are published in the July edition of the scientific journal Health Affairs.
Investigators assessed the relationship between medical marijuana legalization laws and physicians’ prescribing patterns in 17 states over a three-year period (2010 to 2013). Specifically, researchers assessed patients’ consumption of and spending on prescription drugs approved under Medicare Part D for nine areas: anxiety, depression, glaucoma, nausea, pain, psychosis, seizures, sleep disorders, and spasticity.
Authors reported that prescription drug use fell significantly in seven of the nine domains assessed.
“Generally, we found that when a medical marijuana law went into effect, prescribing for FDA-approved prescription drugs under Medicare Part D fell substantially,” investigators reported. “Ultimately, we estimated that nationally the Medicare program and its enrollers spent around $165.2 million less in 2013 as a result of changed prescribing behaviors induced by … jurisdictions that had legalized medical marijuana.”
Investigators estimated that prescription drug savings would total more than $468 million annually were cannabis therapy to be accessible in all 50 states.
They concluded, “Our findings and existing clinical literature imply that patients respond to medical marijuana legislation as if there are clinical benefits to the drug, which adds to the growing body of evidence suggesting that the Schedule I status of marijuana is outdated.”
Survey data compiled from medical marijuana patients reports that subjects often reduce their use of prescription drug therapies, particularly opioids, when they have legal access to cannabis. A Rand Study issued in 2014 showed that opiate-related abuse and mortality is lower in jurisdictions that permit medical cannabis access as compared to those that outlaw the plant.
The savings, due to lower prescription drug use, were estimated to be $165.2 million in 2013, a year when 17 states and the District of Columbia had implemented medical marijuana laws. The results suggest that if all states had implemented medical marijuana the overall savings to Medicare would have been around $468 million.
Because medical marijuana is such a hot-button issue, explained study co-author W. David Bradford, who is the Busbee Chair in Public Policy in the UGA School of Public and International Affairs, their findings can give policymakers and others another tool to evaluate the pros and cons of medical marijuana legalization.
Public support for marijuana has continued in the U.S. This Gallup Poll from last year showed that more and more Americans are using marijuana. California voters will vote on legalizing it this November (and polls show that it is likely to be approved).
And yet, as researchers at Brookings Institution said last year: “Statutory, regulatory, bureaucratic, and cultural barriers have paralyzed science and threatened the integrity of research freedom in this area.”