Research Finds Access to Recreational Marijuana Reduces Demand for Prescription Drugs

When states legalize marijuana, the volume of prescriptions within the drug classes that align with the medical indications for pain, depression, anxiety, sleep, psychosis, and seizures significantly decline.

Legalizing recreational marijuana reduced demand for costly prescription drugs through state Medicaid programs, according to research from Cornell University published in the journal Health Economics.

The analysis found that when states legalize marijuana, the volume of prescriptions within the drug classes that align with the medical indications for pain, depression, anxiety, sleep, psychosis, and seizures significantly decline.

The authors noted that most cannabis research has focused on the impact of medical marijuana on the demand for prescription drugs or the impact of recreational use legalization on demand for opioids. This study, however, is among the first to focus on the impact of personal-use cannabis on a broad range of prescription drugs.

“These results have important implications,” said researcher Shyam Raman, a doctoral student in the Cornell Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy, in a press release. “The reductions in drug utilization that we find could lead to significant cost savings for state Medicaid programs. The results also indicate an opportunity to reduce the harm that can come with the dangerous side effects associated with some prescription drugs.”

The investigators based their study on an analysis of data retrieved from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in all 50 states between 2011 and 2019. This period saw significant growth in the number of states permitting personal use of marijuana, according to the study.

Approximately 40 states have legalized medical marijuana that must be prescribed by a physician. So far, approximately 20 states have legalized personal-use cannabis for all adults, but the authors said that number is likely to increase. In states with legalized personal-use marijuana, the researchers found a meaningful change in the demand for drugs used to treat sleep and anxiety disorders, but no real impact on drugs used to treat nausea.

The authors cautioned that cannabis use is not itself without harm, with many studies associating it with a potential triggering of anxiety and psychoses. Furthermore, patients who use marijuana to treat their medical conditions may be shifting away from visiting their physician and could therefore create discontinuities in primary care.

REFERENCE

Recreational marijuana access reduces demand for prescription drugs. News release. EurekAlert; April 18, 2022. Accessed April 20, 2022. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/949996