Can Medical Marijuana Help End the Opioid Epidemic?

Image: Getty Images; Illustration by Kenneth Bachor of TIME

Image: Getty Images; Illustration by Kenneth Bachor of TIME

A report from father-daughter team W. David and Ashley C. Bradford and published in the journal Health Affairs has analyzed the data on prescriptions filled by Medicare enrollees between 2010 to 2013 and discovered that older people were making use of the medication when available and appropriate. The data also revealed that states with legalized medical marijuana saw a lower rate of prescription painkillers and other medications. Doctors prescribed on average 1,826 fewer doses of painkillers per year. This is welcomed news in the fight against opioid addiction, as fatal overdose from prescription medications have quadrupled since 1999. States where medical marijuana reduced opioid prescriptions have, as a result, saved $165.2 million per year in medical costs.

Marijuana's status as a Schedule I drug make it difficult to research and regulate, but there are studies that support the claim the medical marijuana can treat pain and combat addiction. One study from 2014 and published in the journal JAMA found states with legalized medical marijuana saw a 25%drop in opioid overdose deaths. An analysis published in JAMA in 2015 analyzed 79 studies which found cannabinoids offered a 30% or greater reduction in pain.

This information has been provided by Time Magazine and approved by our Chief Medical Officer.