One study found a 6 percent lower prescription rate for opioids (such as hydrocodone and morphine) covered by Medicare medication plans in states with legalized marijuana. The other study found even greater declines in opioid prescriptions among Medicaid enrollees.
Previous research linked medical marijuana laws to reduced opioid-overdose mortality rates. But because of the observational nature of these studies, it’s too early to draw definite conclusions about these associations.
Still, “these findings further strengthen arguments in favor of considering medical applications of cannabis as one tool in the policy arsenal that can be used to diminish the harm of prescription opioids,” one of the new studies concluded. So far, 29 states have enacted medical marijuana laws.
And as the accompanying editorial put it,“These results do dovetail with preclinical research showing that cannabinoid and opioid receptor systems mediate common signaling pathways central to clinical issues of tolerance, dependence, and addiction. These concepts support anecdotal evidence from patients who describe a decreased need for opioids to treat chronic pain after initiation of medical cannabis pharmacotherapy.”
This article first appeared in the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter.