Study Summary: Legal Cannabis Reduces Prescription Drug Use

Updated: Apr 20

An April 2022 study conducted at Cornell University entitled "Recreational Cannabis Legalizations Associated with Reductions in Prescription Drug Utilization Among Medicaid Enrollees" that was published in the journal Health Economics explored the effect of adult-use cannabis legalization on prescription drug use among those using Medicaid.

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The Study

The scope of the scientific investigation was Medicaid participants in states that have legalized adult-use cannabis. The researchers considered data from thousands of patients in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia from 2011 to 2019. Data was obtained from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.


"We use quarterly data for all Medicaid prescriptions...to investigate the effect of state-level recreational cannabis laws on prescription drug utilization. We estimate this effect with a series of two-way fixed effects event study models," reported the study.


The study's results "indicate an opportunity to reduce the harm that can come with the dangerous side effects associated with some prescription drugs."

"These results have important implications," said Shyam Raman, a doctoral student in the Cornell Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy, in a press release accompanying the study's release in April 2022.


The Results

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

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The researchers identified a decrease in prescription drug use for a number of conditions, including anxiety, depression, and pain.


The researchers identified a decrease in prescription drug use for a number of conditions, including anxiety, depression, and pain.

"We find significant reductions in the volume of prescriptions within the drug classes that align with the medical indications for pain, depression, anxiety, sleep, psychosis, and seizures," noted the scientists. "Our results suggest substitution away from prescription drugs and potential cost savings for state Medicaid programs."


However, the study's authors cautioned that cannabis use "is not itself without harm" and noted that other studies associate marijuana use with "a potential triggering of anxiety and psychoses such as schizophrenia." They also noted that those who medicate with cannabis "may be shifting away from visiting their doctor and therein creating discontinuities in primary care."


View the original study.


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