Well-Being

Legalizing marijuana lowers demand for prescription drugs, study finds

“The reductions in drug utilization that we find could lead to significant cost savings for state Medicaid programs. The results also indicate an opportunity to reduce the harm that can come with the dangerous side effects associated with some prescription drugs,” one researcher said.
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Story at a glance

  • Cornell University researchers analyzed data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in all 50 states from 2011 to 2019.

  • They found a decline in the volume of prescriptions targeting pain, depression, anxiety, sleep, psychosis and seizures in states that have legalized recreational use. 

  • Thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia currently permit the use of medical marijuana with a prescription. 

Access to marijuana via legalization lowers demand for expensive prescription medications through state Medicaid programs, according to a new study.  

Cornell University researchers analyzed data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in all 50 states from 2011 to 2019, finding a decline in the volume of prescriptions targeting pain, depression, anxiety, sleep, psychosis and seizures in states that have legalized recreational use.  

“These results have important implications,” Shyam Raman, a doctoral student in the Cornell Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy, said in a news release.  

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

Raman conducted the research, which was published April 15 in the journal Health Economics, with Indiana University doctoral student Ashley Bradford. 

They noted the decreasing volume of prescription medications might be influenced by a decline in patients’ primary care visits when they use marijuana to treat conditions. 


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Thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia currently permit the use of medical marijuana with a prescription while 18 states and the nation’s capital have enacted legislation allowing regulated non-medical use, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.  


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