Yet another study has found that medical cannabis access could be a tool in curbing the national opioid epidemic as University of Georgia researchers observed a 14.4 percent reduction in prescription opioid use in states with medical cannabis dispensaries and another 7 percent reduction in such prescriptions in states with home-cultivation-only medical cannabis laws, according to a Science Daily report.
The study by the University of Georgia, School of Public and International Affairs, was published Apr. 2 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Internal Medicine. Researchers examined the number of all opioid prescriptions filled between 2010 and 2015 under Medicare Part D, which is the prescription drug plan available to Medicare enrollees. The study looked at common prescription opioids, including hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine, methadone, and fentanyl.
W. David Bradford, study co-author and Busbee chair in public policy for the UGA school, indicated that the researchers were asking “what happens to physician behavior in terms of their opiate prescribing if and when medical cannabis becomes available” noting that some of the states analyzed by researchers had medical cannabis laws throughout the five-year study period, some never had medical cannabis, and some enacted medical cannabis laws during those five years.”
“Physicians cannot prescribe cannabis; it is still a Schedule I drug. We’re not observing that prescriptions for cannabis go up and prescriptions for opioids go down. We’re just observing what changes when medical cannabis laws are enacted, and we see big reductions in opiate use.” – Bradford to Science Daily
Ashley Bradford, the lead author on the study and a graduate student at the UGA Department of Public Administration and Policy, indicated that in other studies researchers “examined prescription rates for non-opioid drugs such as blood thinners, flu medications and phosphorus stimulants and saw no change.”
“Medical cannabis wouldn’t be an effective treatment for flu or for anemia, so we feel pretty confident that the changes we see in opioids are because of cannabis because there is a legitimate medical use.” – Bradford to Science Daily
The study adds to a growing body of evidence that medical cannabis could be used as an exit drug from opioids – rather than a gateway drug. Last year the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a division of the National Institutes of Health updated their website to reflect NIDA research which purported links between medical cannabis access and a reduction in opioid prescriptions and opioid-related hospital admissions.
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