Providing broader access to medical marijuana through dispensaries may have the potential benefit of reducing prescription painkiller abuse, a new study suggests.
Researchers at the RAND Corporation and the University of California-Irvine note many medical marijuana patients say they use the drug to alleviate chronic pain.
If marijuana is used as a substitute for powerful and addictive pain relievers in states where medical marijuana is legally available, it might lead to a reduction in harms associated with opioid pain relievers, they said.
The researchers assessed whether states that legalized medical marijuana saw reductions in fatal overdoses and admissions to addiction treatment centers related to opioid abuse, MSNBC reports.
They found in the 18 states that legalized marijuana dispensaries, there was a 16 percent decrease in opioid-related deaths and a 28 percent drop in opioid-related treatment admissions.
In the six states that legalized medical marijuana, but did not legalize retail dispensaries, there was no evidence of reductions in opioid abuse or overdoses, the study found.
In states with dispensaries, there was no decrease in the distribution of legal opioid painkillers. This suggests that the reduction in painkiller abuse in those states may come from people who had been taking illegally obtained opioids and replaced it with medical marijuana, the researchers write in the National Bureau of Economic Research report.