Study: Legal Marijuana Decreases Reliance On Opioids And Other Drugs

But the murky legality of marijuana means that physicians are allowed only to recommend it.

Opioids
Photo by DarkoStojanovic via Pixabay

“People are really using marijuana as medicine and not just using it for recreational purposes.” That’s the conclusion of Ashley Bradford of the University of Georgia, lead author of a study on the impact of medical marijuana and opioid use.

Bradford and her research team examined prescription rates between 2010 and 2013 in jurisdictions that had medical marijuana laws. While they found that overall rates were steady, in all but one of the nine categories where the FDA has approved cannabis medication, pharmaceutical prescriptions declined.

The largest results were registered with anxiety, nausea, and psychosis, all of which declined annually by more than 500 prescriptions per doctor. Seizure prescriptions dropped by 486, and painkillers by a stunning 1,826 per doctor.

The one anomaly is glaucoma, which jumped by 35. But the team had anticipated that: To completely treat the degenerative eye disease, cannabis must be administered every hour or two, which is an unsustainable pace (although for some of us it may be an aspiration). Nevertheless, the buzz about cannabis medicine might have motivated more patients to consult their doctors; hence the rise in prescriptions.

While the study mostly welcomes the changes, it does find some cause for concern. The murky legality of marijuana means that physicians are allowed only to recommend, not prescribe, it, and users, even when medically justified, may try to hide their tracks.

“What does this mean?” speculates co-author David Bradford. “Do you then go less frequently to the doctor and maybe your non-symptomatic hypertension, elevated blood sugar and elevated cholesterol go unmanaged? If that’s the case, that could be a negative consequence to this.”