Medical Marijuana Could Lower Prescription Drug Use

Seventeen states with medical marijuana laws saved Medicare Part D approximately $165.2 million in 2013.

New research shows that the use of legal medical marijuana for medicinal purposes lowered prescription drug use among Medicare enrollees.

Researchers in the study, which was published in Health Affairs, included data about prescriptions filled from 2010 to 2013 by Medicare Part D enrollees.

Only conditions that had an FDA-approved medication that could be treated with medical marijuana were included. Conditions such as anxiety, depression, glaucoma, nausea, pain, psychosis, seizures, sleep disorders, and spasticity were examined.

Researchers discovered that prescriptions in the pain category decreased by 1826 daily doses, and depression medication decreased by 265 daily doses. Medical marijuana can decrease eye pressure by 25% in patients with glaucoma, but the effects last 1 hour.

Researchers found that the daily doses for glaucoma medication increased by 35, according to the study.

"It turns out that glaucoma is one of the most Googled searches linked to marijuana, right after pain," said study co-author W. David Bradford. "Glaucoma is an extremely serious condition. The patient then goes into the doctor, the doctor diagnoses the patient with glaucoma, and no doctor is going to let the patient walk out without being treated."

Researchers found the overall cost savings were approximately $165.2 million in 2013 among the 17 states and the District of Columbia who implemented the laws. The researchers estimate the savings to Medicare alone would have been $468 million if all states were to adopt the laws.

Though it is only .5% of their prescription drug benefit, the savings are still significant. In further studies, researchers plan to examine the consequences of having patients go to dispensaries or grow the medical marijuana themselves.

They also plan to study cost savings in the Medicaid population and expect similar cost savings.