Recreational marijuana may reduce demand for prescription drugs, study finds

Experts say the drug can reduce some health risks linked to certain medications

Marijuana and prescription drugs
Photo (c) Cappi Thompson - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from Cornell University explored how access to recreational marijuana may affect the pharmaceutical industry. According to their findings, consumers who have legal access to marijuana may ultimately lower their demand for prescription drugs. 

“These results have important implications,” said researcher Shyam Raman. “The reductions in drug utilization that we find could lead to significant cost savings for state Medicaid programs. The results could also indicate an opportunity to reduce the harm that can come with the dangerous side effects associated with some prescription drugs.” 

Trends with prescription drugs

The researchers analyzed data from 2011 through 2019 from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in all 50 states for the study. They looked at states that had legalized marijuana during that time period and what effect that had on requests for prescription drugs. 

The researchers learned that 20 states across the country had legalized marijuana for personal use during the study period. However, 40 states had legalized medical marijuana for adults with doctors’ prescriptions. 

In states where marijuana is legal for personal reasons, the need for prescription drugs dropped. The team found that medications prescribed for pain, sleep, depression, anxiety, seizures, and psychosis were all much lower when consumers had legal access to marijuana. 

Ultimately, the researchers hope consumers don’t abandon primary care check-ups or other doctor visits in exchange for legal marijuana use. However, reducing the demand for prescription medications may also lower Medicaid costs over time. 

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