People who use medical marijuana more likely to use and misuse other prescription drugs

Can medical marijuana help to fight the opioid epidemic? Many believe that it can. But a new study finds that people who use medical marijuana actually have higher rates of medical and non-medical prescription drug use — including pain relievers. The study appears in the Journal of Addiction Medicine, the official journal of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), published by Wolters Kluwer.

Rather than being at lower risk, people who use medical marijuana may be at higher risk for non-medical prescription drug use, suggests the study by Theodore L. Caputi, BS of University College Cork’s School of Public Health and Keith Humphreys, PhD, of Stanford University. However, an accompanying commentary questions whether medical cannabis is the cause of higher prescription drug use, or whether other factors explain the association.

Does Use of Medical Marijuana Increase or Decrease Prescription Drug Use?

The researchers analyzed more than 57,000 responses to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Participants were asked about medical and non-medical (“inconsistent with doctor’s instructions”) use of prescription drugs. The survey also asked about marijuana use, including whether it was recommended by a healthcare professional. The survey identified 776 people who used medical marijuana — about 1.4 percent of all responders.

People who used medical marijuana were more likely to say they had used prescription drugs in the past year. They were about 60 percent more likely to report any prescription drug use, relative to those who did not use medical marijuana.

People who used medical marijuana were also more than twice as likely to report non-medical use of prescription drugs, including pain relievers, stimulants, and tranquilizers. “Non-medical use of pain relievers is of particular interest because of pain relievers’ role in the opioid overdose epidemic,” Mr. Caputi and Dr. Humphreys observe.

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