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  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director September 19, 2016

    oil_bottlesThe implementation of medical marijuana programs is associated with a decrease in the prevalence of opioids detected among fatally injured drivers, according to data published in the American Journal of Public Health.

    Researchers at Columbia University in New York and the University of California at Davis performed a between-state comparison of opioid positivity rates in fatal car accidents in 18 states. Authors reported that drivers between the ages of 21 and 40 who resided in states that permitted medical marijuana use were approximately half as likely to test positive for opioids as were similar drivers in jurisdictions that did not such programs in place.

    They concluded, “Operational MMLs (medical marijuana laws) are associated with reductions in opioid positivity among 21- to 40-year-old fatally injured drivers and may reduce opioid use and overdose.”

    Prior comparisons have determined that medical cannabis access is associated with lower rates of opioid use, abuse, and mortality. Most recently, a 2016 study published in the journal Health Affairs reported a significant decrease in the use of prescription medications following the implementation of medical marijuana programs.

    An abstract of the study, “State medical marijuana laws and the prevalence of opioids detected among fatally injured drivers,” appears online here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director July 12, 2016

    substitutionThe enactment of statewide medicinal cannabis laws is associated with a quantifiable decline in the use of traditional prescription drugs, according to data published in the July edition of the scientific journal Health Affairs.

    Investigators at the University of Georgia assessed the relationship between medical marijuana legalization laws and physicians’ prescribing patterns in 17 states over a three-year period (2010 to 2013). Specifically, researchers assessed patients’ consumption of and spending on prescription drugs approved under Medicare Part D in nine domains: anxiety, depression, glaucoma, nausea, pain, psychosis, seizures, sleep disorders, and spasticity.

    Authors reported that prescription drug use fell significantly in seven of the nine domains assessed.

    “Generally, we found that when a medical marijuana law went into effect, prescribing for FDA-approved prescription drugs under Medicare Part D fell substantially,” investigators reported. “Ultimately, we estimated that nationally the Medicare program and its enrollers spent around $165.2 million less in 2013 as a result of changed prescribing behaviors induced by … jurisdictions that had legalized medical marijuana.”
    Investigators estimated that prescription drug savings would total more than $468 million annually were cannabis therapy to be accessible in all 50 states.

    They concluded, “Our findings and existing clinical literature imply that patients respond to medical marijuana legislation as if there are clinical benefits to the drug, which adds to the growing body of evidence suggesting that the Schedule I status of marijuana is outdated.”

    An abstract of the study, “Medical marijuana laws reduce prescription medication use in Medicare Part D,” is available online here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director June 9, 2016

    for_painRising rates of medical cannabis use among Canadian military veterans is associated with a parallel decline in the use of prescription opiates and benzodiazepenes, according to federal data recently provided to The Globe and Mail.

    According to records provided by Veterans Affairs Canada, the number of veterans prescribed benzodiazepines (e.g. Xanax, Ativan, and Valium) fell nearly 30 percent between 2012 and 2016, while veterans’ use of prescription opiates declined almost 17 percent. During this same period, veterans seeking federal reimbursements for prescription cannabis rose from fewer than 100 total patients to more than 1,700.

    Canadian officials legalized the use of cannabis via prescription in 2001.

    While the data set is too small to establish cause and effect, the trend is consistent with data indicating that many patients substitute medical cannabis for other prescription drugs, especially opiates.

    Prior assessments from the United States report that incidences of opioid-related addiction, abuse, and mortality are significantly lower in jurisdictions that permit medicinal cannabis access as compared to those states that do not.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director April 26, 2016

    pills_v_potRates of prescription opioid abuse are significantly lower in jurisdictions that permit medical marijuana access, according to data reported by Castlight Health, an employee health benefits platform provider.

    Investigators assessed anonymous prescription reporting data from over one million employees between the years 2011 and 2015.

    In states that did not permit medical marijuana access, 5.4 percent of individuals with an opioid prescription qualified as abusers of the drug. (The study’s authors defined “abuse” as opioid use by an individual who was not receiving palliative care, who received greater than a 90-day cumulative supply of opioids, and received an opioid prescription from four or more providers.) By contrast, only 2.8 percent of individuals with an opioid prescription living in medical marijuana states met the criteria.

    The findings are similar to those reported by the RAND Corporation in 2015, which determined, “[S]tates permitting medical marijuana dispensaries experience a relative decrease in both opioid addictions and opioid overdose deaths compared to states that do not.”

    Data published in 2014 in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine also reported that the enactment of statewide medicinal marijuana laws is associated with significantly lower state-level opioid overdose mortality rates, finding, “States with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8 percent lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate compared with states without medical cannabis laws.”

    Full text of the new study, “The opioid crisis in America’s workforce,” appears online here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director March 22, 2016

    cannabis_pillsChronic pain patients with legal access to medicinal cannabis significantly decrease their use of opioids, according to data published online ahead of print in The Journal of Pain.

    Investigators at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor conducted a retrospective survey of 244 chronic pain patients. All of the subjects in the survey were qualified under Michigan law to consume medicinal cannabis and frequented an area dispensary to obtain it.

    Authors reported that respondents often substituted cannabis for opiates and that many rated marijuana to be more effective.

    “Among study participants, medical cannabis use was associated with a 64% decrease in opioid use, decreased number and side effects of medications, and an improved quality of life,” they concluded. “This study suggests that many chronic pain patients are essentially substituting medical cannabis for opioids and other medications for chronic pain treatment, and finding the benefit and side effect profile of cannabis to be greater than these other classes of medications.”

    About 40 people die daily from opioid overdoses, according to the US Centers for Disease Control.

    Clinical trial data published last month in The Clinical Journal of Pain reported that daily, long-term herbal cannabis treatment is associated with improved pain relief, sleep and quality of life outcomes, as well as reduced opioid use, in patients unresponsive to conventional analgesic therapies.

    The results of a 2015 Canadian trial similarly concluded that chronic pain patients who consumed herbal cannabis daily for one-year experienced reduced discomfort and increased quality of life compared to controls, and did not possess an increased risk of serious side effects.

    Separate data published in 2014 in The Journal of the American Medical Association determined that states with medical marijuana laws experience far fewer opiate-related deaths than do states that prohibit the plant. Investigators from the RAND Corporation reported similar findings in 2015, concluding, “States permitting medical marijuana dispensaries experience a relative decrease in both opioid addictions and opioid overdose deaths compared to states that do not.” Clinical data published in 2011 in the journal Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics previously reported that the administration of vaporized cannabis “safely augments the analgesic effect of opioids.”

    An abstract of the University of Michigan study, “Medical cannabis associated with decreased opiate medication use in retrospective cross-sectional survey of chronic pain patients,” appears online here.

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