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Legal access to marijuana reduces prescription drug use, study finds

States where recreational marijuana is legal have seen steep declines in the use of prescription drugs for pain, depression, anxiety, sleep, psychosis and seizures, researchers have found. Photo by Atomazul/Shutterstock

When people have legal access to marijuana, they’re less likely to take certain prescription drugs, new research shows.

US states where recreational marijuana is legal have seen steep declines in the use of prescription drugs for pain, depression, anxiety, sleep, psychosis and seizures, the researchers found.

“These findings have important implications,” said study co-author Shyam Raman. He is a doctoral candidate at the School of Public Policy at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY.

“The reductions in drug use we see could result in significant savings for state Medicaid programs. The findings also indicate an opportunity to reduce the harm that can result from dangerous side effects associated with certain prescription drugs,” said Raman at a university. Press release.

For the study, researchers analyzed data from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services collected from all states from 2011 to 2019, when there was an increase in states allowing personal marijuana use.

Currently, recreational marijuana use is legal in 18 states plus Washington, DC Thirty-seven states plus Washington, DC have legalized marijuana for medical purposes.

Most previous research has focused on how medical marijuana affects prescription drug use or how legal recreational use of weed affects demand for opioids. This is one of the first papers to examine the influence of legal recreational marijuana on prescription drug use, the study authors noted.

While there is a silver lining to their findings, the investigators warned that marijuana use carries risks, pointing to a number of studies that link it to a possible triggering of anxiety and psychoses such as schizophrenia.

It’s also possible that people who use marijuana to treat their health conditions don’t see their doctor as often, leading to gaps in their primary care, the researchers said.

The study was published recently in the journal Health Economics.

More information

There’s more on marijuana at the US National Institute on Drug Abuse.

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Joan J. Dean

The author Joan J. Dean