Medical Marijuana

Medical Marijuana Reduces Prescription Drug Use, Says New Research

In 2013 it saved Medicare Part D more than $165 million.


Chuck Grimmett / Flickr

If you want to reduce people's overreliance on prescription drugs, your best bet might be to let people smoke pot instead.

A new study by researchers at the University of Georgia (UGA) showed states with legalized medical marijuana had lower rates of prescription drug use. Not only that, but the government is saving money as a result of not having to pay for as much medicine for Medicare patients.

The paper looked at prescriptions filled by Medicare Part D enrollees from 2010 to 2013, narrowing the data to include only conditions where medical marijuana could serve as a possible treatment. The researchers, David Bradford and Ashley Bradford, found that eight out of the nine conditions saw a marked decrease in filled prescriptions.

Medical marijuana saved the Medicare drug program more than $165 million in 2013, a year when 17 states and Washington, D.C., permitted its use. If it had been legal across the nation, according to a UGA press release, the savings "would have been around $468 million."

This is just under half a percent of what was spent in 2013 as part of Medicare Part D (which totaled $103 billion). The results also indicate people may turn toward available alternatives to prescription drugs, even if they're not covered by any insurance program.

The only condition that saw an increase in written prescriptions was glaucoma, a condition that leads to pressure building in the eye and eventually blindness if a person does not get treatment.

The researchers note while glaucoma patients can use medical marijuana to decrease the amount of pressure they're experiencing, it is not an effective treatment method. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the discomfort only lowers for three or four hours, meaning a person would have to smoke marijuana six to eight times a day to get full-time relief.

"On the programmatic side, we do see reductions in expenditures," said David Bradford in a video released by the university. "Those reductions in expenditures could then be reallocated to other kinds of important and unmet medical needs at the moment."

He hopes this research will help people understand the health benefits of medical marijuana rather than just seeing it as a back door to legalizing recreational pot use. "What our evidence is suggesting is that the response that the patients are having and that physicians are having is that there is a significant amount of actual clinical use at work," Bradford said.

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  1. So I guess add Big Pharma to the list of legalization’s powerful enemies.

    1. I would also expect ‘free weed’ to be added to (some part of) the libertarian ticket.

    2. Yep.

      Also, who is dumb enough to think that the government wants to save money?

    3. They’ve been on the list for a long time.

  2. The researchers note while glaucoma patients can use medical marijuana to decrease the amount of pressure they’re experiencing, it is not an effective treatment method. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the discomfort only lowers for three or four hours, meaning a person would have to smoke marijuana six to eight times a day to get full-time relief.

    And the problem is?

    1. And the problem is?

      You mean aside from the notion that Cannabis must be smoked from marijuana in order to receive any/all benefits?

      1. cannabis/cannabinoids whatever.

    2. Beat me to it. Talk about your white girl problems.

  3. According to my doctor if everyone smoked pot doctor visits would be cut by 50%. His reasoning is that stress is a leading cause of illness and pot relieves stress.

    1. Or everyone would forget when their appointment is. I had a doctor’s appointment, but then …. I got high, I got high, I got high…


  4. Well. There’s only one thing to do. We have to make cannabis a prescription drug only. For the children.

    1. And it’ll be a monopoly controlled by whoever first gets in a petition showing its efficacy in modern times, like colchicine.

  5. I tend to be leery of the arguments behind “medical” marijuana because it puts the question of drug ‘decriminalization’ into a framework of “What benefits does it offer”?

    i.e. It implicitly accepts that things can/should be “permitted” when they show potential benefits, and “banned” when they do not.

    I personally prefer the argument that, even if its shitty and does nothing positive whatsoever, it should be decriminalized. It doesn’t matter if it causes cancer, or potentially cures it. Makes no difference whatsoever.

    Others seem to think that they can jump between the 2 arguments and risk nothing in the process. Its just a “nice to have” which helps the purely-political-argument.

    It reminds me of my joke re: “The Japanese rationalization of the Rape of Nanking”

    a – It never happened!
    b – and besides, they deserved it!

    i.e. in case argument a) fails, go to b)

    i’m not some philosophical purist. I just think the have-cake/eat-cake approach actually undermines the case for all the non-marijuana drugs by granting that ‘medical benefits’ should be a pre-requisite for decriminalization.

    i suppose the counter-argument is, “but it works”; and once weed is more-legal, well then we can turn on a dime and change arguments for other things.

    But I’m not crazy about the way weed is being “legalized” (as opposed to being ‘decriminalized’) either.


    1. Some arguments don’t matter, judging by the number of legislators that won’t even vote for medical marijuana that has been proven effective in easing the suffering of patients with various diseases. One almost wishes their kids
      would come down with a painful disease that could be treated if they lived in another state where the legislators aren’t trying to be the nanny.

    2. (contd)

      in particular – here’s my benchmark for whether legalization is making anything ‘better’ =

      “Getting baked in central park”

      It is currently illegal to smoke anything in central park.

      It was/is always illegal to smoke pot, but it was never enforced at all. cops couldn’t tell the difference and didn’t care. Now, you roll the dice smoking/vaping anything.

      I’m not interested in a world where things are “legalized”, but end up being more-regulated. If you can’t smoke while reading a book lying in the middle of a field, things are not becoming “more free”. I’m more interested in the argument that people should stop trying to control one-another’s behaviors writ large. Talking about the medicinal properties of things basically abandons that idea and embraces the notion of strict control.

      1. Now, you roll the dice smoking/vaping anything.

        (insert the vape-nation clip)

      2. But then you’re letting politics control the facts. You can’t argue that something’s good, because there are people who want it illegal, so you’re implicitly conceding the idea that bad or not-good things should be illegal. Similarly you can’t argue that something’s bad (like an immunization), because then you’re conceding the idea that if it were good it should be mandatory. So ultimately you can’t say anything factual about anything controversial, because the facts aren’t supposed to matter, only your opinions/desires/feelz that liberty is good/bad.

        1. Like the people who didn’t want to be seen wearing safety belts once their use became mandatory.

    3. I tend to agree with you, my position on utilitarianism is clear.

      But it is nice when the moral argument and the utilitarian argument are the same.

      1. Picking nits with wikipedia:

        Deontological libertarianism is based on the non-aggression principle, which states that no human being holds the right to initiate force or fraud against the person or property of another human being, under any circumstances. Deontological libertarians consider this principle to be the basis of all morality, and therefore they believe that any violation of the principle is immoral, no matter what other arguments may be invoked to justify that violation.

        I disagree, in that I consider the principle of self ownership to be the axiom, not the NAP. IMO, the NAP is derived from self-ownership.

        1. From further down in that article, some of the point I was trying to make:

          Furthermore, natural-rights libertarian will usually see no contradiction in using both deontological and consequentialist arguments, instead seeing them as complementary. The good consequences come precisely because morally just means were used, rather than arguing that these means are morally good because they have good consequences.

          Although I could pick nits with the 2nd sentence there.

      2. Is your position on clarity utilitarian, just for symmetry’s sake?

    4. Well, Nanking was kinda flirty, no?

  6. Nothing will change my mind about medical weed. It’s bullshit. I’m not saying it’s not medicine. I’m saying legalize it and leave people the fuck alone. If they want to self medicate with it, they will.

    1. It seems to me that it’s as much a “medicine” as anything else that doesn’t cure a disease. If Tylenol is medicine, then so is marijuana. Conversely, if marijuana isn’t medicine, then so aren’t a whole host of other things which are currently at various stages of legality from OTC to prescription-only to tightly controlled. The “potential for abuse” standard is on a completely orthogonal axis from “medical use”.

      1. it’s as much a “medicine” as anything else that doesn’t cure a disease

        Maybe some of the resident Dr’s can chime in on this…. but AFAIK, very few medicines actually “cure” diseases in any real sense of ‘attacking the root cause of symptoms’

        most medicines manage/alleviate/suppress symptoms, making the root ’cause’ effectively meaningless.

        I suppose things like ‘antibiotics’ go after causes; but i’d guess that the ‘cure’ types of medication are far more rare than the things that merely suppress symptoms while allowing your own immune system to do the real job.

        1. very few medicines actually “cure” diseases

          Indeed, that’s kind of my point. The line is arbitrary.

        2. very few medicines actually “cure” diseases

          Feature, not a bug. If medicines cured diseases, the Pharm industry would go broke and so would doctors and hospitals. Only when the model changes from ‘treatment’ to ‘cure and maintain’ will this change. Medicine is still in the exact same state it was 100 years ago, just with more expensive diagnostic equipment.

          1. I should have actually said more expensive and ‘better’ diagnostic equipment. But the rest of the statement stands.

          2. There are lots of problems with modern medicine (many of them related to the problems of modern science, even though medicine generally isn’t scientific), but emphasis on prevention and palliative treatment is a consequence of other factors not the cause. By your reasoning, nuclear power is still in the “exact same state” it was 60 years ago because we don’t have fusion. But a lot of developments have been made, and the current state of the art is significantly better than the starting point, even if the “breakthroughs” aren’t as common or sweeping as people had hoped.

            1. What I meant was that the approach is the same. Diagnose problem, treat symptoms with drugs. We’re still very primitive.

  7. Think of how many problems we have today that are a direct result of the drug war. It is sickening to think about. All because of a fucking plant.

  8. Cannabis would be legal in short order, if not for one thing, teams.

    Right now, and I witness this stuff almost daily because I’m around a lot of people who refer to themselves as, or identify with the term ‘conservative’. And part of this conservative identity says ‘Whatever a liberal is for, I’m against’. It’s just the opposite of the other side of the same coin, liberals, part of whose identity says ‘Whatever a conservative is for, I’m against.’. From the viewpoint of your typical conservative, the thinking is ‘Smelly liberal hippies like pot, because they’re degenerates and druggies. Therefore, pot is bad, unlike my alcohol, which is the holy elixir of gawd’.

    It’s really that simple.

    1. Cannabis would be legal in short order, if not for one thing, teams.

      It’s really that simple.

      Considering Team Red and Team Blue have a bill headed to Obumble’s desk that, at least nominally/superficially, begins to treat heroin/opioid addiction as a medical issue rather than a moral one while, at the same time, the leader of the libertarian party implies that he’s in favor of marijuana legalization but *not* heroin, causes me to think that ‘simple’ is the wrong word.

      1. From Section 1802:

        “(B) appropriate law enforcement, regulatory, and State professional licensing authorities have access to prescription history information for the purposes of investigating drug diversion and prescribing and dispensing practices of errant prescribers or pharmacists;”.

        Not an improvement.

        1. I’m not clear that this is any different than the current situation. You have to have a license to be a pharmacist and any given pharmacy is regularly audited. The auditors (who have or are granted access to prescription histories) are required to notify police of discrepancies and, if they don’t, the police can readily attain the information with a court order and hold both the pharmacist as well as the auditing party(ies) culpable.

          If you think your prescription history is somehow safely guarded from law enforcement now, you’re sorely mistaken.

      2. No, it’s still simple. The political ruling class see drugs the way they do everything else. As an opportunity. In some cases, the opportunity may be to increase their control. In some cases, it’s for profit. When they start talking about ‘treatment’ as a solution, believe me, just follow the money trail. Their friend, or cousin, or whatever will soon be opening some treatment centers which will receive both tax payer dollars and state mandated patients. And the politicians who helped push this bullshit through will be receiving massive crony bucks.

        1. No, it’s still simple.

          Weird how the simple explanation about ‘teams’ and ‘conservative’ is clarified by a paragraph that makes no mention of teams or conservatives. Like ‘teams’, ‘conservative’, and ‘simple’ didn’t really belong together.

          I don’t doubt that the idea of legalization is simple. The notion that everyone agrees to the same legalization in the same way isn’t (esp. considering some 40+% of the country isn’t even on board with legalization).

          1. No, you missed what I was doing. The way I took it, you moved the focus from voters to the ruling class. At that level, the team thing is more fuzzy. But there’s still a simple explanation for what they do, it just differs from the motivations of the peasantry. The peasantry are in no position to benefit and profit from things like this, they just get to feel smug and self righteous about their neighbors being bullied by their favored terms.

  9. “Medical marijuana saved the Medicare drug program more than $165 million in 2013, a year when 17 states and Washington, D.C., permitted its use.”

    I bet they found something else to spend that money on, though.

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  11. Anyone around my age or older knows drivers were much less rage-filled back when they were smoking cigarettes instead of popping Xanax.

  12. Medical Marijuana Reduces Prescription Drug Use

    Hence, one of the main reasons why it’s illegal.

    And why states with large populations will be the last to legalize.

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