States With Legal Marijuana Have Less Opioid Prescriptions On Average, Study Says

A bud grows on a marijuana plant at Oaksterdam University July 22, 2009 in Oakland, California.
Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

A new study published in the Journal of Health Economics reveals that states with legal medical and recreational marijuana have fewer opioid prescriptions on average, Newsweek reports.

In particular, access to recreational cannabis is connected to an 11.8 percent lower rate of opioid prescriptions each day, while medical marijuana is tied to a 4.2 percent lower rate of such prescriptions. The study also found that both laws appear to be connected to a decrease in the total number of patients that are prescribed opioids, as well as to decreases in the likelihood that a healthcare provider will prescribe opioids.

According to the researchers behind the study, recreational marijuana laws could provide easier access to the drug for treating pain and other conditions and could be a “useful tool” to combat the current prescription opioid epidemic gripping the country.

“While state governments have enacted various policies to curtail opioid prescriptions, e.g., prescription drug monitoring programs, many of these policies simply limit access to opioids and may push individuals already dependent on prescription opioids to more dangerous drugs, such as heroin,” they said.

The authors claim that the data suggested policies that decrease opioid prescriptions without pushing individuals toward more dangerous substitutes are “preferable to policies that simply restrict opioid prescriptions.”

Science Daily reports that a previous study in Economic Inquiry found that access to marijuana is tied to a decrease in opioid-related deaths, mirroring previous research that linked medical marijuana laws to decreased opioid deaths.

“Recreational marijuana laws affect a much larger population than medical marijuana laws, yet we know relatively little about their effects,” wrote co-author Nathan W. Chan.

“Focusing on the recent wave of recreational marijuana laws in the U.S., we find that opioid mortality rates drop when recreational marijuana becomes widely available via dispensaries.”

The focus on marijuana as a potentially safer alternative to opioids comes as research continues to shed doubt on claims that the drug is harmful to the brain. As The Inquisitr previously reported, 33 states have legalized medical marijuana, and 11 of them have legalized the consumption and/or sale of recreational cannabis. As for the future, six states are planning to legalize recreational marijuana next year — Arkansas, Florida, Arizona, Missouri, South Dakota, and New Jersey.

Politicians are also reportedly shifting their views on marijuana, despite Forbes noting that they have historically lagged behind public consensus on cannabis reform. The publication notes that this shift is tied to politicians attempting to win elections.