More and more research is coming out showing how painkiller abuse and overdoses are much lower in states with medical marijuana laws. These research are generally of the opinion that when medical marijuana is readily available, more patients suffering from pain are opting for cannabis over powerful and often deadly prescription narcotics. But to be clear, this was only an assumption on the basis of the research being conducted.
However, a more recent study in the Journal of Health Affairs corroborates these findings by providing clear evidence of a missing connection in the causal chain running from medical marijuana to fall in pain medication overdoses. A pair of researchers at the University of Georgia, Ashley and W. David Bradford searched through a comprehensive database of all prescription drugs paid for under Medicare Part D from the period 2010 to 2013.
The father and daughter research team discovered that in the 17 states with a medical –marijuana law in place by 2013, prescriptions for painkillers and other classes of drugs showed a significant decline compared with states that did not have the medical cannabis law in place. In medical marijuana states. The average doctor prescribed 551 fewer anti-nausea doses, 562 fewer doses of anti-anxiety medication, 486 fewer doses of seizure medication and265 few doses of antidepressants each year.
These conditions are some of the reasons for the approval of medical marijuana under state laws. The Bradfords also ran a similar study and analysis on drug categories that weed typically is not recommended for, that is, blood thinners, anti-viral drugs and antibiotics. What was interesting is that they discovered no changes in prescribing patterns after the passing of medical marijuana laws.
The drop in numbers for the number of painkillers prescribed in medical marijuana states are likely to cause a major concern among pharmaceutical companies who are in the business of manufacturing them. Many of these companies have been an obstacle to marijuana reform and funneling funds to anti-pot research and groups that oppose cannabis legislation such as the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America.
Pharmaceutical companies have also lobbied federal agencies in order to directly prevent the liberalization of marijuana laws. An example of this is in the move by the Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) that recommended naturally derived THC, which is the main psychoactive component of marijuana, to be moved from Schedule 1 to Schedule 3 of the Controlled Substances Act, which is a much less restrictive category and that would acknowledge the widely held belief that the drug has medical use and would thus make it easier to prescribe and research.
However, several months after the department had made their recommendation, at least one pharmaceutical firm that manufactures synthetic THC (which would be in direct competition with the natural THC), wrote to the Drug Enforcement Administration to express their opposition to the rescheduling citing that it could lead to the potential abuse through the need to grow and cultivate extensive marijuana crops in the United States.
Interestingly enough, the DEA rejected the HHS recommendation with no explanation.
In another damning finding, the Bradford research also analyses the cost savings involved from the decreasing prescriptions in Medicare. They discovered that approximately $165 million was saved in the 17 medical marijuana states in 2013. If all the 50 states were to implement similar programs, the estimated annual Medicare prescription savings would be nearly half a billion dollars, which is just under 0.5% of Medicare Part D spending in 2013.
However, cost savings alone is not a significant reason for implementing a medical cannabis program, one should also consider better health, which through the research, is evidenced from medical marijuana users seeking cures from a natural plant solution rather than a synthetic pill.