After Medical Marijuana Legalized, Medicare Prescriptions Drop For Many Drugs

Photo Credit: Chris Hondros/Getty Images

Photo Credit: Chris Hondros/Getty Images

New research appearing in Health Affairs found in states where medical marijuana is legal, the numbers of Medicare prescriptions and the spending by Medicare Part D that cover the costs of those prescriptions have declined when medical marijuana is offered as a viable alternative for the same symptoms or conditions. For medicines like blood-thinners, in which medical marijuana is not a viable alternative, prescription numbers have not changed, which strengthens the point that medical marijuana legalization is responsible for this decline. This suggests that many patients not only find medical marijuana effective in treating their symptoms, but that they also prefer it to their prescription medications. 

The study analyzed data from Medicare Part D from 2010-2013 to determine whether legalization of marijuana changed doctors' clinical practice or curbed public health costs. Researchers found medical marijuana saved Medicare about $165 million in 2013, and they estimated Medicare Part D spending would have declined by $470 million that same year if medical marijuana had been legal across the nation. That being said, those savings only amount to about half a percent of total expenditures, suggesting monetary savings are not reason enough to legalize medical marijuana. Still, the study reveals that patients are opting to use medical marijuana as a medication for anxiety, depression, nausea, pain, psychosis, seizures, sleep disorders, and spasticity. Authors of the study are additionally investigating medical marijuana's effects on prescriptions covered by Medicaid, and while the research is still being finalized, they have found a greater drop in prescription medication payments there.

This information has been adapted from NPR and approved by our Chief Medical Officer.