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When people use cannabis do they stop using other drugs?

There’s been some good research into this – which may be THE key question when it comes to medical marijuana.

The answer appears to be – some do stop using other drugs. And, even better, fewer people die.

Key findings using Medicare data:

  • States with medical marijuana laws saw about 10% fewer daily doses of opioids than those without those laws.
  • States with dispensaries only (no home cultivation) saw a 14% decrease in opioid doses
  • Total savings to Medicare and Medicaid would be about $3.4 billion if all states adopted Medical Marijuana Laws – but the folks buying the marijuana would pay for their cannabis out of their own pockets.

Studies using Medicaid data saw somewhat greater reductions in opioid usage.

Couple observations – there have been massive changes in PDMPs, increases in naloxone usage, tighter state laws and federal guidance on opioids (CDC et al), which may well have had some impact on death rates and lower opioid usage overall (Brian Allen of Mitchell made this point just after I wrote this). Dr Bradford noted that their analysis considered these possible confounding issues.

My big takeaway – there’s a significant reduction in the number of deaths due to opioids when states have access to cannabis. Like a 25% reduction.

Dr David Bradford of the University of Georgia presented this information; he and Ashley Bradford published much of this in a piece in HealthAffairs two years ago; they used Medicare and Medicaid data.

Dr Bradford noted he and Ms Bradford hope to be working with WCRI on a workers’ comp-specific study soon.

2 thoughts on “When people use cannabis do they stop using other drugs?”

  1. Everybody (every single person) with medical education or no education knows that pot is a stepping stone gateway drug. In no way does it or could it ever substitute for an opiod, especially in addictive circumstances (99%). Every opiod used/addict has used pot, but not every pot user uses opiods… so its the reverse: Opiods eliminate pot, but pot never eliminates opiods.
    Yep – the MASSIVE war on opiods has coincided with the legalization of pot.but in true reality, they are disconnected events – coinciding.
    Please don’t pretend otherwise and confuse more people into saying YES to drugs… any drugs.
    Lots of things are bad (Booze, cigarettes) and adding pot to the legal list wont help with the horrible surge of drug addiction our country is suffering with.
    “if you have to lie about your position, you should check your position”. Me.

    1. Tim – thanks for the comment.

      The war on drugs was lost decades ago, and will never be won.

      Your declarative statements are not supported by credible research or cites. If you have them, please share. Further, there IS research indicating Marijuana or its derivatives do have positive effects on chronic pain, directly contradicting your claim.

      I appreciate your passion on this issue, and have very mixed feelings about legal cannabis. That said, opinions need support in science, and your claims are unsupported.

      In fact, ample research indicates marijuana is NOT a “gateway drug.” Your assertion appears to imply that just keeping marijuana illegal will help stop its use. Where is the data to support that assertion?

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Joe Paduda is the principal of Health Strategy Associates



A national consulting firm specializing in managed care for workers’ compensation, group health and auto, and health care cost containment. We serve insurers, employers and health care providers.



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