Study Shows Medical Pot Lowers Painkiller Abuse

      (CN) — A recent study found that states with legal medical marijuana have lower levels of prescription painkiller abuse and overdoses.
     Scientists from the University of Georgia examined prescription drugs purchased under Medicare Part D from 2010 to 2013, cross-referencing prescription levels state by state.
     The father-daughter research team found that prescriptions for painkillers and other classes of drugs in the 17 states with a medical-marijuana law in effect by 2013 fell sharply in comparison to states where medical marijuana is not legal.
     In states with medical marijuana, the average doctor prescribed 265 fewer of doses of antidepressants each year, and 486 fewer doses of seizure medication. About 562 fewer doses of anti-anxiety medication and 541 fewer anti-nausea doses were also prescribed in these states.
     However, the pair’s most significant finding came after reviewing painkiller prescriptions. Doctors in states with medical marijuana prescribed roughly 1,826 fewer doses of painkillers in the years observed.
     These conditions and health issues are the most common reasons listed by patients who sign up for a medical marijuana card under state laws.
     “This provides strong evidence that the observed shifts in prescribing patterns were in fact due to the passage of the medical marijuana laws,” the report said.
     Though marijuana’s benefits for glaucoma patients is widely cited in arguments in favor of legalizing the drug, the research depicted an odd trend. Patients suffering from glaucoma in medical-marijuana states actually were prescribed traditional drugs at a slightly higher rate than patients in states without medical marijuana.
     The authors theorized that temporary glaucoma relief provided by marijuana may motivate patients to seek other, stronger treatment options.
     Pharmaceutical companies have long fought against medical marijuana legislation, and the study seems to underscore the reason why.
     Drastic reductions in prescription rates in more states would represent another threat to the profit margins of the pharmaceutical industry, which has funded research by anti-marijuana academics and funneled money to groups that oppose marijuana legalization.
     Pharmaceutical companies have also lobbied federal agencies directly, such as in a case recently uncovered by the office of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York.
     The Department of Health and Human Services recommended that naturally derived THC — the main psychoactive component of marijuana — be moved from Schedule 1 to Schedule 3 of the Controlled Substances Act, a less restrictive category that would acknowledge the drug’s medical benefits and enable additional research.
     At least one drug company wrote to the Drug Enforcement Administration to express opposition to rescheduling natural THC. The DEA ultimately rejected the recommendation without explanation in 2010.
     The researchers estimated that about $165 million was saved in the 17 medical-marijuana states in 2013. They calculated that annual Medicare prescription savings would be around half a billion dollars each year if medical marijuana were legalized in all 50 states, just under 0.5 percent of all Medicare Part D spending in 2013.
     The savings could actually be much higher since the researchers calculated savings for Medicare Part D, which is only available to seniors — a demographic least likely to include medical marijuana users.
     The pair plans to examine whether the observed patterns are similar for Medicaid.

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