Can Medical Marijuana Ease the Opioid Epidemic?

April 23, 2018 | Crandall & Pera Law
Can Medical Marijuana Ease the Opioid Epidemic?

According to two recent studies, medical marijuana may be chipping away at the opioid problem in the United States. Advocates for legalizing marijuana have long held the belief that the plant is a lower-risk alternative to opioids, and can relieve chronic pain. However, those on the other side of the issue claim that marijuana could actually encourage opioid use and possibly make the epidemic worse. Let's take a look at the study.

Although these studies don't directly look at the effect of legalizing marijuana on opioid addiction and overdoses, they do find some evidence that legalization could reduce the prescribing of opioids. And over-prescribing is one of the key factors in the country's opioid problem.

These studies were released on April 2, 2018 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

Opioid prescribing dropped under Medicaid

One of the studies, which took place between 2011 and 2016, took a look at opioid prescribing under Medicaid. Medicaid covers low-income adults. Researchers compared states where marijuana laws were in effect versus states where it was illegal. They found that when people were permitted to use marijuana to treat their medical conditions, there was a six percent lower rate of opioid prescribing for pain. In other words, for every thousand people using Medicaid, there were about 39 fewer opioid prescriptions.

Further, when states went on to allow recreational marijuana use in addition to medicinal, opioid prescriptions dropped by another six percent.

Opioid prescribing also dropped under Medicare

The second study took a deep dive into opioid prescribing under Medicare. Medicare covers those 65 years and older as well as those with disabilities. Again, researchers compared states with medical marijuana laws with those without for the years 2010 through 2015. They found that patients in these states filled prescriptions for about 14 percent fewer daily doses of opioids than those in the other states. And, patients in states that allowed them to grow pot at home showed around seven percent fewer doses.


“Marijuana is one of the potential alternative drugs that can provide relief from pain at a relatively lower risk of addiction and virtually no risk of overdose,” Wen and Hockenberry, the authors of the Medicaid study, wrote. “These findings suggest that medical and adult-use marijuana laws have the potential to reduce opioid prescribing for Medicaid enrollees, a segment of population with disproportionately high risk for chronic pain, opioid use disorder, and opioid overdose.”

There are concerns, however, that marijuana use could open the door for experimentation with harder drugs. According to a study by Dr. Mark Olfson, marijuana users are six times more likely than non-users to abuse opioids.

At Crandall & Pera Law, we support everyone who is trying to improve their quality of life – but we want to make sure you have the facts, first. If you are suffering from being overprescribed opioids, please call our Ohio office at 877-686-8879, or in Kentucky at 877-651-7764. You can also fill out our contact form to schedule a no-obligation consultation.