Less Opioid Prescriptions Use Where Marijuana Is Legal

April 21, 2018

As of March 30, 2018, there are 23 states that have broadly legalized marijuana usage and eight states that have legalized marijuana for recreational use. This means that 30 states and the District of Columbia now have laws that broadly legalize marijuana in some form. With the stark increase of laws legalizing marijuana usage, there has been a decrease in the use of prescription drugs, especially opioids.



In 2016, there were over 64,000 Americans who died from opioid overdoses. While death rates varied by state, public health experts estimate that nationwide over 500,000 people could die from the epidemic over the next 10 years. The opioid epidemic cost the United States an estimated $504 billion in 2015. On October 26, 2017, President Donald Trump concurred with his FDA’s report on the opioid epidemic and declared the country's opioid crisis a "public health emergency." It has now been six months since his declaration, and little has been done to combat opioid addiction.

However, the legalization of marijuana has had a surprising effect on the usage of opioids in the United States. According to Scientific American, after analyzing more than five years of prescription data, a positive correlation was found between states that legalized weed, and the number of opioid prescriptions and the daily dose of opioids in the United States. A 2014 paper published in JAMA found that states with medical marijuana laws had nearly 25 percent fewer deaths from opioid overdoses.


One of the new studies found that people on Medicare filled 14 percent fewer prescriptions for opioids after medical marijuana laws were passed in their states. An even more amazing statistic is that Medicaid enrollees filled nearly 40 fewer opioid prescriptions per 1,000 people each year after their state passed any law making cannabis accessible. Trevor Hurst (‘19) said that “the research is very interesting and it will have significant implications if it is found to be factual” and he looks “forward to seeing how well this research stands up to future scrutiny.”  


While the side-effects of opioids have been studied and can be destructive to the body, especially the GI tract, marijuana’s safety profile isn’t really an issue. According to Scientific American, Marie Hayes, a psychologist at the University of Maine said that “people are convinced of its safety.” Opioids as a chronic pain treatment have a checkered reputation as well: one recent study found opioids didn’t provide any more relief for chronic arthritis pain than over-the-counter painkillers.

It seems that Americans have recently become more open to Marijuana usage. A recent Pew survey found that 61 percent of Americans favor legalizing pot. Although nine states and the District of Columbia allow adults to use it for whatever reason they want, and more than 20 other U.S. states permit residents to use marijuana for medicinal purposes, not all medical marijuana laws are created equal. States with dispensaries that are open for business saw the greatest decrease in opioid prescriptions, while states without active dispensaries saw a far less dramatic decline—about seven percent instead of 14.


While most Americans are in favor of marijuana usage, the federal government is still opposed. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has promised to crackdown on marijuana cases, with certain exceptions. Jordan Aussicker (‘20) believes that “the data and current trends linking increased marijuana use with decreased opioid abuse will force the Trump administration to reconcile both their staunch opposition to legalizing marijuana, and their highly publicized fight to battle the opioid crisis.”


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