Legalizing medical marijuana appears to reduce the amount of opioids that people use, according to a new study.
The study, published in the International Journal of Drug Policy, found that people living in states with medical cannabis laws are less likely to report using opioids than people living in states without these laws.
Previous studies have found that cannabis is more effective at reducing pain than opioids and has far fewer side effects, such as overdose and death. Small studies have shown that some pain patients say they prefer cannabis over opioids because it’s viewed as safer. The authors of this study wanted to see if this was happening on a larger scale.
“Our research suggests that it does, as opioid reliance is less in states having medical cannabis legislation,” says the study’s lead author Jamie L. Flexon, PhD, associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at Florida International University.
The study also found, however, that medical marijuana laws do not appear to influence opioid misuse, suggesting that the laws have not helped nor hurt those who already are using opioids.
It is unclear whether patients are turning to medical marijuana because of their own interest in trying a non-opioid pain reliever or because their doctors recommended it, reported the Miami New Times. Though more doctors are becoming open to medical marijuana, many still refuse to recommend or prescribe it, despite the process for obtaining a license to prescribe it becoming easier in many states.
Medical marijuana laws, “may ultimately influence the opioid epidemic by providing for a safer, less addictive, and effective alternative to opioids for pain management,” says Flexon.