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  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director May 3, 2017

    Medical marijuanaAdults often substitute cannabis for the use of prescription medications, according to data published in the Journal of Pain Research.

    Investigators from the Bastyr University Research Institute assessed the frequency of drug substitution among a self-selected national sample of 2,774 self-identified marijuana consumers.

    Just under half of respondents (46 percent) reported using cannabis in place of prescription medications. Respondents were most likely to use cannabis in lieu of narcotics/opioids (36 percent), anxiolytics/benzodiazepenes (14 percent), and antidepressants (13 percent).

    Women were more likely than men to report drug substitution, as were older respondents. Those who identified as medical cannabis patients were more than four times as likely as non-medical users to report drug substitution.

    “These data contribute to a growing body of literature suggesting cannabis, legal or otherwise, is being used as a substitute for prescription drugs, particularly prescription pain relievers,” authors concluded.

    The study’s conclusions are similar to those of several others, such as these here, here, here, and here, finding reduced prescription drug use and spending by those with access to cannabis.

    Full text of the study, “Cannabis as a substitute for prescription drugs — a cross sectional study,” appears in the Journal of Pain Research here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director November 14, 2016

    Marijuana researchMedical cannabis administration is associated with improved cognitive performance and lower levels of prescription drug use, according to longitudinal data published online in the journal Frontiers in Pharmacology.

    Investigators from Harvard Medical School, Tufts University, and McLean Hospital evaluated the use of medicinal cannabis on patients’ cognitive performance over a three-month period. Participants in the study were either naïve to cannabis or had abstained from the substance over the previous decade. Baseline evaluations of patients’ cognitive performance were taken prior to their cannabis use and then again following treatment.

    Researchers reported “no significant decrements in performance” following medical marijuana use. Rather, they determined, “[P]atients experienced some improvement on measures of executive functioning, including the Stroop Color Word Test and Trail Making Test, mostly reflected as increased speed in completing tasks without a loss of accuracy.”

    Participants in the study were less likely to experience feelings of depression during treatment, and many significantly reduced their use of prescription drugs. “[D]ata revealed a notable decrease in weekly use across all medication classes, including reductions in use of opiates (-42.88 percent), antidepressants (-17.64 percent), mood stabilizers (-33.33 percent), and benzodiazepines (-38.89 percent),” authors reported – a finding that is consistent with prior studies.

    Patients in the study will continue to be assessed over the course of one-year of treatment to assess whether these preliminary trends persist long-term.

    Full text of the study, “Splendor in the grass? A pilot study assessing the impact of marijuana on executive function,” appears online here.

  • 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.

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