I’m a non-user, but several good friends are. I really didn’t understand how smoking weed helped them with their chronic conditions until I broached the subject.
What I learned is that they don’t use pot to “get high,” they use it as an alternative to potentially dangerous anti-anxiety and pain killer medications. This really opened my eyes to medical marijuana use and how it can benefit our society. In this MedicareWire post we’ll look at new research and examine what’s really preventing Medicare from approving pot as a treatment.
New research offers conclusive proof that painkiller abuse, which often leads to overdose and death, is lower in states that have legalized marijuana for medical use. Research shows that, when medical marijuana is available, patients are increasingly choosing weed over powerful, and often deadly, prescription narcotics.
After observing one of my friend’s use of marijuana for her pain, I’m not at all surprised. Several years ago Cindi was in an explosion accident that crushed her sternum, broke her back, and left her permanently disabled. As she explained to me, “smoking weed does not numb the pain like prescription narcotics, it simply changes my attitude about the pain so I can function.”
The latest study, released in the journal Health Affairs, offers overwhelming evidence of medical marijuana’s link to falling overdoses in states that have adopted medical marijuana (MMJ) laws. W. David and Ashley Bradford, a father-daughter research team at the University of Georgia, analyzed all prescription drugs paid for under Medicare Part D from 2010 to 2013. They discovered that in all 17 states with MMJ laws enacted by 2013, painkillers prescriptions fell significantly as compared to states that have not legalized medical marijuana.
The drug prescription reductions were significant. In MMJ states, on average, doctors prescribed 1,826 fewer doses of painkillers, 265 fewer doses of antidepressants each year, 486 fewer doses of seizure medication, 541 fewer anti-nausea doses, and 562 fewer doses of anti-anxiety medication. These are the chronic conditions for which medical marijuana is most often approved under state laws. Christopher Ingraham, at the Washington Post, summarizes their results:
As a cross-check the Bradfords conducted the same analysis on medications that weed does not treat, including blood thinners, anti-viral drugs, and antibiotics. On these drugs, the Bradfords found no changes in prescription patterns, leading them to conclude, “This provides strong evidence that the observed shifts in prescribing patterns were in fact due to the passage of the medical marijuana laws”. “The results suggest people are really using marijuana as medicine and not just using it for recreational purposes,” Ashley Bradford wrote in a news release.
Pharmaceutical companies have long been the leading opposition to marijuana reform. They heavily fund research by anti-dope academics and shovel money into groups like the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, that oppose marijuana legalization. The Bradford’s research explains why: medical marijuana is taking a big bite out of their multi-billion dollar market.
Big pharma also lobbies federal agencies to prevent marijuana laws. In a case discovered by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) office, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommended that THC, the main psychoactive component of marijuana, be moved from Schedule 1 to Schedule 3 of the Controlled Substances Act. This chance effectively-acknowledged marijuana’s medical effectiveness, making it easier to research and prescribe.
Shortly after the HHS recommendation, at least one drug company that manufactures a synthetic THC wrote to the Drug Enforcement Administration to express its opposition, citing “the abuse potential in terms of the need to grow and cultivate substantial crops of marijuana in the United States.” In response, the DEA rejected HHS’ recommendation without explanation.
In what will likely be the most damning finding for the pharmaceutical industry, the Bradfords analyzed the cost savings to Medicare as a result of the decreased prescribing. They calculated as much as $165 million was saved in the 17 medical marijuana states in 2013 alone. The savings could be nearly half a billion dollars if all 50 states legalized pot for medical purposes.
“Our findings and existing clinical literature imply that patients respond to medical marijuana legislation as if there are clinical benefits to the drug, which adds to the growing body of evidence suggesting that the Schedule 1 status of marijuana is outdated,” the study concludes.
As the study used Medicare Part D spending data provided by CMS, which applies only to seniors, the overall effect of medical marijuana is likely to be greater. This begs the important question: Is it time for HHS and Medicare to push back on the DEA, and ultimately big pharma, for a change in the status of marijuana for medical use?
What’s your opinion?