Is medical marijuana replacing some prescription drugs, in states where it’s legal? Maybe so. And, it might be saving the government some money.
A study by the University of Georgia, published in the July issue of Health Affairs, shows that the use of prescription drugs for which marijuana could serve as an alternative fell significantly after a state legalized medical marijuana. The study looked at prescriptions that were filled by people who were signed up for Medicare Part D, Medicare’s prescription drug plan, between 2010 and 2013.
Medical marijuana might be a money-saver
The use of medical marijuana reduced what the government had to pay for Medicare prescriptions in the 17 states and the District of Columbia where medical marijuana was available. In 2013 it’s estimated that saving was more than $165 million.
If all states had medical marijuana available, the study estimates the yearly savings would total about $468 million. That’s only a savings of about 0.5 percent compared to Medicare Part D’s $103 billion budget for that year, but the University of Georgia researchers say it’s an indication that, in states where marijuana is legal, people are using it as an alternative to prescription drugs to ease pain and anxiety, relieve spasticity and to treat sleeping problems and other disorders. “The results suggest people are really using marijuana as medicine and not just using it for recreational purposes,” says Ashley Bradford the study’s lead author.
California became the first state to legalize marijuana for medical use back in 1996. It was followed, two years later, by Alaska, Oregon and Washington. Today, 25 states plus D.C. have enacted medical marijuana laws. Each state law treats it differently. The federal government still considers marijuana a “Schedule 1” drug, under the Controlled Substances Act. That’s the most restrictive of its drug drug categories, which means it’s very unlikely that we’ll see a national medical marijuana law.