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Yet Another Study Finds Marijuana Reduces Opioid Use

More people are turning to cannabis for pain relief. And that's saving lives.

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A new study has found that the legalization of medical marijuana in states across the country led to a drastic reduction in the number of people taking opioids through the Medicaid system.

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It’s far from the first study to make the connection between legal marijuana and lower opioid use. Just this year, similar conclusions were reached in studies from Minnesota and Israel.

The difference in the new study, conducted by the University of California-San Diego and Weill Cornell Medical College, is the magnitude of marijuana’s impact on opioid use.

Looking at numbers in states that legalized medical marijuana between 1994 and 2014, the study found an almost 30 percent drop in the use of Schedule III opioids by patients in the Medicaid system.

Cost savings

Marijuana advocates have long backed cannabis as a pain reliever that is far safer than opioids. The message has been picked up by more people in recent years as medical marijuana legalization has spread to more states and the opioid overdose epidemic has worsened.

An estimated 630,000 people have overdosed on opioids since 1999. That’s a higher number than the deaths of soldiers in any single U.S. war (the Civil War is the highest with about 500,000 casualties).

Of those 630,000 overdoses, more than 200,000 were from prescription opioids, according to data analyzed by the Centers for Disease Control.

In addition to the drop in opioid use, the study translated the reduction in opioid prescriptions into dollars saved for the government. Medicaid is a publicly funded, income-based insurance that both federal and state governments support.

The study estimated almost $14 million has been saved with marijuana legalization - $7.46 million at the federal level and $6.54 million at the state level.

Writing in the journal Addiction, the researchers estimated that “if all the states had legalized medical cannabis by 2014, Medicaid annual spending on opioid prescriptions would be reduced by 17.8 million dollars.”

Related: The New 'This Is Your Brain On Cannabis' Ad Is Rad


Both the reduction in opioid use and the cost savings are significant, the study found. However, it does not present marijuana as a cure-all for the scourge of opioid addiction.

The study noted that it only found the drop in usage for patients who had been using Schedule III opioids. These include prescription drugs containing less than 15 milligrams of hydrocodone per dosage, such as Vicodin, or those containing not more than 90 milligrams of codeine, such as Tylenol with codeine.

A significant reduction was not found for those taking Schedule II drugs. Those include drugs that contain oxycodone and fentanyl.

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