Cannabis for adults reduces demand for prescription drugs


To date, legal cannabis in America has been understood in two ways: medicine or pleasure. There’s medical marijuana, requiring a qualifying condition and a doctor’s recommendation before any legal herb can be accessed; and then there’s cannabis for adult (or recreational) use, which requires nothing more than government-issued ID proving age.

But what if there was a third way or, what if, as the late activist Dennis Peron said, all marijuana use was medical, or at least part of an overall wellness strategy? Recent research that demonstrates a decline in prescription drug use in states that have legalized cannabis for adult use – which, as a practical bonus, is generally more readily and widely available than the drug – suggests this may be the case.

Weed, pills down

In the past, passing medical cannabis laws has been associated with a decline in prescription pharmaceuticals. The effect of adult cannabis use laws – no small feat in East Coast states like New York, where the medical program is small and difficult to access thanks to tight restrictions around doctors and eligible diseases – is less studied.

So the researchers looked at Medicaid prescriptions filled between 2011 and 2019 in all 50 states. And in states that have legalized adult cannabis use, they’ve seen “significant reductions” in prescriptions filled for drugs intended to treat “pain, depression, anxiety, sleep, psychosis, and mental disorders.” seizures,” according to a research paper published in April in the journal Health Economics.

Or, in other words, legalization seems to present an important medical benefit as well as the familiar arguments for social justice and new sources of tax revenue.

People are self-medicating with cannabis, and while it’s hard to say for sure if they’re getting the same results, the fact that they don’t seem to be going back to pharmaceuticals is suggestive, as the co-author of the study Shyam Raman, a PhD student at Cornell University’s Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy, said in a recent interview.

“What [adult-use cannabis] legalization opens up the ability to self-medicate without seeing a doctor and can be denied because your condition is not on the list of eligible conditions,” said Raman, who pointed out that while only Medicaid data has studied, these results are applicable to the general population. “There is real evidence that people are self-medicating and not going back to pharmaceuticals.”

Cannabis for anxiety, depression and insomnia

Of the drug classes studied, Raman and study co-author Ashley Bradford, a researcher and doctoral student at Indiana University, found the largest drops in demand for anxiety, depression, insomnia and psychosis, with declines of 12.2%, 11.1%, 10.8% and 10.7%, respectively.

In addition to potential savings for Medicaid programs, legalizing cannabis for adult use may have an added harm reduction benefit, the researchers found, with people quitting or reducing their reliance on pharmaceutical drugs with unpleasant side effects like being easier to access. over-the-counter recreational cannabis becomes available.

“We strongly believe that people do it because the side effects of pharmaceuticals are really frustrating,” Raman said.

The findings suggest adopting a more sophisticated yet broader understanding of legalizing cannabis for adult use – and never overlooking the fact that whatever you call it, cannabis can generally be a good product. to be, a fact that argues for the legalization of cannabis for adult use. at the state and federal levels should not be overlooked.

“The adult cannabis market in most states is just easier to navigate because patients don’t have to pay for a patient card and they don’t have to get a doctor’s referral,” he said. said Debbie Churgai, executive director of Americans for Safe Access, arguably the nation’s leading medical cannabis policy advocacy group.

But, as always, it’s also a reminder that cannabis is very understudied. Key questions, including dosage and regimen, remain unanswered, leaving “patients” — whether or not they are officially enrolled in their state’s program — to figure it out for themselves.

“We still don’t know how to regulate cannabis as a medicine,” Raman said. “How are we able to say ‘This is medical’ without being able to say ‘This is the amount you take for therapeutic purposes’?”

Still medical or wellness?

So, is cannabis always medical, or is all recreational cannabis also medical, or is a third way of understanding cannabis the best classification? It’s hard to say for sure, and in the end, it might not matter.

“I don’t like to compare [medical and adult-use cannabis]said Churgai. “I think this is a great example of how people feel the effects of the drug, whether they recognize it or not.”

But what this suggests is that some forces in the cannabis industry may need to re-evaluate their messaging and branding. Don’t forget medical cannabis patients: they are also part of your adult market segment.

“If you attend these business conferences, you hardly see or hear the word ‘patient’ in a presentation,” Churgai said. “I think that’s getting lost more and more as our industry grows. They think the adult cannabis market would be bigger than the medical marijuana market.

But, as this research suggests, the differences are not as sharp and distinct as we might have thought. Cannabis for medical and adult use may well turn out to be exactly the same thing.

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