(Reuters Health) – Opioid prescriptions may decline when states legalize marijuana, two U.S. studies suggest.
FILE PHOTO: Marijuana is seen for sale at Harborside, one of California’s largest and oldest dispensaries of medical marijuana, on the first day of legalized recreational marijuana sales in Oakland, California, U.S., January 1, 2018. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage/File Photo
One study focused on older adults with Medicare drug benefits. In each state, in an average year, doctors prescribed 23 million daily doses of opioids. Compared to states where cannabis was banned, states where medical marijuana was legal averaged 3.7 million fewer opioid doses annually, while states that permitted only home cultivation of marijuana had 1.8 million fewer doses.
A separate study of adults insured by Medicaid, the U.S. health program for the poor, found medical marijuana laws associated with an almost 6 percent decline in opioid prescriptions.
“These findings suggest that cannabis may play a role in fighting the opioid crisis by reducing some patients’ need for opioids,” said Dr. Kevin Hill, coauthor of an accompanying editorial and director of addiction psychiatry at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.
“The evidence thus far does not suggest that cannabis should be a first-line or even a second-line treatment for pain,” Hill said by email. “But if a patient has tried to treat pain using multiple modalities without success, a trial of medical cannabis may make sense.”
Each day, 90 Americans die from opioid overdoses, Hill notes in JAMA Internal Medicine, where both studies were published. While some deaths may be due to illegal narcotics like heroin, others are caused by opioid medications like oxycodone, fentanyl, hydrocodone, morphine, and methadone.
In the Medicare study, conducted from 2010 to 2015, researchers didn’t find cannabis legalization associated with a meaningful reduction in prescriptions for fentanyl or oxycodone.