HomeNewsMedical Cannabis Laws: Minimal Impact on Opioid Prescriptions

Medical Cannabis Laws: Minimal Impact on Opioid Prescriptions

There has been widespread positive reporting on the potential for medical cannabis to substitute prescription opioids and other non-opioid pain treatments. But a recent study found state laws permitting medical cannabis have had no significant effect on the use of such treatments among patients with chronic non-cancer pain.

The study conducted by researchers at Weill Cornell Medicine and published in the Annals of Internal Medicine delved into the impact of medical cannabis laws on pain management. Drawing on insurance claims data from 12 states with enacted medical cannabis laws and 17 comparison states, the study focused on the years 2010 to 2022 and included 583,820 commercially insured adults with chronic non-cancer pain.

Negligible differences were found in the proportion of patients receiving any opioid prescription, any nonopioid prescription pain medication, or any chronic pain procedure in states where medical cannabis was legal. These differences were observed in a given month during the first three years following medical cannabis becoming legal, and the results were relative to what the researchers projected would have occurred if the laws were not implemented.

The researchers estimated medical cannabis laws led to an average difference of 0.05 percentage points for the proportion of patients receiving any opioid prescription, 0.05 percentage points for any nonopioid prescription pain medication, and -0.17 percentage points for any chronic pain procedure.

However, it’s important to note the study was limited by the number of states, and the results may not be applicable to non-commercially insured populations. Around 8.4 percent of Americans didn’t have health insurance in 2022 – a significant proportion.

The researchers suggest the lack of change in pain treatment patterns may be attributable to a slow implementation process of medical cannabis programs, or a possible reluctance among healthcare professionals to recommend it for chronic pain.

While the study, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, provides interesting insights, its design relies on some untestable assumptions. Conflicting with these findings are various other studies in recent years indicating the use of medicinal cannabis can reduce consumption of prescription opioids among patients suffering from various conditions, including chronic pain.

The potential for medical cannabis to alleviate the impact of the scourge of opioids is an important area of research, and much more needs to be done to determine what role it could play in addressing it.

Gillian Jalimnson
Gillian Jalimnson is one of Hemp Gazette's staff writers and has been with us since we kicked off in 2015. Gillian sees massive potential for cannabis in areas of health, energy, building and personal care products and is intrigued by the potential for cannabidiol (CBD) as an alternative to conventional treatments. You can contact Gillian here.

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