Medical marijuana appears to be an effective way to combat opioid abuse and addiction, according to two scientific studies that indicate that some people who suffer from pain are turning to legalized marijuana rather than prescription drugs if given the choice.
In 2016, 42,249 people died from opioid overdoses, which comes to 116 deaths every day, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In addition, 11.5 million people misused opioids.
One study, published Wednesday in Health Affairs, found that states that legalized medical marijuana, often recommended for chronic pain, anxiety or depression, saw declines in the number of Medicare prescriptions for drugs used to treat those conditions and reduced spending by Medicare Part D, which covers prescription medications.
"Using data on all prescriptions filled by Medicare Part D enrollees from 2010 to 2013, we found that the use of prescription drugs for which marijuana could serve as a clinical alternative fell significantly, once a medical marijuana law was implemented," the authors wrote. "National overall reductions in Medicare program and enrollee spending when states implemented medical marijuana laws were estimated to be $165.2 million per year in 2013."
Meanwhile, the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine says there's sound evidence that cannabis effectively eases pain for some conditions. So researchers decided to see if people with easy access to medical marijuana are less likely to use prescription opioids. The answer is "yes," according to their report in JAMA Internal Medicine.
"From 2010 to 2015 there were 23.08 million daily doses of any opioid dispensed per year in the average state under Medicare Part D," the researchers wrote. "Multiple regression analysis results found that patients filled fewer daily doses of any opioid in states with an MCL (medical cannabis law)."
The researchers found a 14 percent reduction in opioid prescriptions in states that allow easy access to medical marijuana and estimated that these dispensary programs reduced the number of opioid prescriptions by 3.7 million daily doses.
States that allowed homegrown marijuana for medical use also experienced an estimated 1.8 million fewer pills dispensed per day.
Of course, these results most likely will be ignored by U.S. Atty, Gen. Jeff Sessions whose opposition to marijuana -- medical or otherwise -- is well-documented, even though the Trump administration says it is serious in combatting the opioid crisis.