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Legal Marijuana Reduces Demand For Prescription Drugs

Access to Cannabis — via adult-use legalization — lowers demand for dangerous prescription drugs through Medicaid


Legalizing marijuana results in lower demand for more dangerous, expensive prescription medications through state Medicaid programs. Those are the results of a new study published this week, reports The Hill.

Cornell University researchers analyzed data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in all 50 states, 2011-2019. They found a decline in prescriptions for pain, depression, anxiety, sleep, psychosis and seizures in legal Cannabis states.  

“These results have important implications,” Shyam Raman, a doctoral student in the Cornell Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy, said in a news release.  

“The reductions in drug utilization that we find could lead to significant cost savings for state Medicaid programs,” Raman said. ”The results also indicate an opportunity to reduce the harm that can come with the dangerous side effects associated with some prescription drugs.”

“These Results Have Important Implications”

Raman did the research, published April 15 in the journal Health Economics. Indiana University doctoral student Ashley Bradford assisted with the study.

Raman is a public health economist. He’s working on his PhD in Policy Analysis and Management at Cornell University’s Brooks School of Public Policy. Bradford is a PhD student studying public policy analysis with an emphasis on health policy.

The scientists said the decreasing volume of prescriptions might be influenced by a decline in primary care visits when using marijuana.

Significant Reductions In Prescription Rates

Past studies have looked at the impact of medical Cannabis on demand for prescription drugs. Studies also examined the impact of adult use legalization on opioid demand.

But this is the first study to focus on the impact of legal marijuana on a range of prescription drugs.

Researchers found a meaningful change in the demand for drugs used to treat sleep and anxiety disorders, reports MyHealthyClick. But Cannabis made no real impact on drugs used to treat nausea, according to Science Daily.

Scientists found reductions in prescriptions for pain and five other conditions after a year of legalization, reports Pain News Network:

  • -12.2% Anxiety
  • -11.1% Depression
  • -10.8% Sleep 
  • -10.7% Psychosis
  • -9.5% Seizures
  •    -8% Pain

Prescriptions for the six conditions declined even more in the second and third years after legalization of adult-use marijuana.

In another study last year, researchers linked Cannabis legalization to fewer worker’s compensation claims.

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