Pubdate: Thu, 07 Jul 2016
Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA)
Copyright: 2016 PG Publishing Co., Inc.
Author: Don Sapatkin


Patients fill significantly fewer prescriptions for conditions like 
nausea and pain in states where medical marijuana is available, 
researchers reported Wednesday in one of the first studies to examine 
how medical cannabis might be affecting approved treatments.

Prescriptions for all drugs that treat pain combined, from cortisone 
to OxyContin, were nearly 6 percent lower in states with medical 
marijuana programs.Anxiety medication was 5 percent lower.

The result was a drop of more than $165 million in health care 
spending in states that had medical marijuana programs running in 
2013, according to the analysis of national Medicare data. The 
savings could equal 0.5 percent of the entire Medicare program's drug 
budget if medicinal cannabis was available in every state.

For years, lawmakers in state after state have approved medical 
marijuana programs after pleas from desperate patients. The debates 
centered largely on the limited evidence of benefit and concerns 
about harm and abuse.

The study, published Wednesday in the journal Health Affairs, is one 
of the first to hint at that effect.

"When states turned on a medical marijuana law," use of treatments 
approved by the Food and Drug Administration went down, said senior 
author David Bradford, a health economist at the University of 
Georgia, "suggesting that they were substituting something else - and 
the plausible thing that they would be substituting was marijuana."

He made clear that the associated trends do not prove cause and 
effect. Nor can they suggest whether substitution would be a good 
thing or a bad thing overall.

To measure the effect of medical pot programs, the researchers 
examined prescriptions filled in the Medicare Part D program in the 
17 states plus the District of Columbia that had legalized medicinal 
can nib is through 2013, compared with those that had not.

For glaucoma and spasticity, the average number of daily doses 
prescribed by each physician were too small to determine a 
difference. But all the others were significantly lower in the states 
with medicinal cannabis: anxiety, depression, nausea, pain, 
psychosis, seizures, and sleep disorders.
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