Can Legalizing Cannabis Help with the Opioid Epidemic?

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Two studies came out earlier this week in JAMA Internal Medicine stating that there is a potential link between cannabis legalization and a decrease in the amount of prescriptions for opioids (1,2). The first study by Bradford and colleagues concluded that medical cannabis laws were associated with significant reductions in opioid prescriptions for patients in the Medicare Part D population. “This finding was particularly strong in states that permit dispensaries, and for reductions in hydrocodone and morphine prescriptions,” the authors stated.

According to the study (1), this longitudinal analysis of Medicare Part D found that prescriptions filled for all opioids decreased by 2.11 million daily doses/year from an average of 23.08 million daily doses/year when a state instituted any medical cannabis law. Prescriptions for all opioids decreased by 3.742 million daily doses/year when medical cannabis dispensaries opened.

The second paper by Wen and Hockenberry was a population-based, cross-sectional study based on the all-capture Medicaid prescription data from 2011 to 2016. The authors compared the Medicaid prescription data to the medical marijuana and adult-use marijuana laws that were passed during the same time frame to discover if those laws were associated with lower opioid prescribing rates. According to the study, the state implementation of medical marijuana laws was associated with a 5.88% lower rate of opioid prescriptions and the implementation of adult-use marijuana laws was associated with a 6.38% lower rate of opioid prescriptions.


“These findings suggest that medical and adult-use marijuana laws have the potential to reduce opioid prescribing for Medicaid enrollees, a segment of population with disproportionately high risk for chronic pain, opioid use disorder, and opioid overdose,” said the authors (2).

Both of these studies strongly indicate that cannabis can help fight the opioid epidemic. For more information on these studies, please see the full articles at the links provided below.


  1. A.C. Bradford, W.D. Bradford, A. Abraham, and G. Bagwell Adams, JAMA Intern Med. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2018.0266 (2018). Available at:
  2. H. Wen and J.M. Hockenberry, JAMA Intern Med. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2018.1007 (2018). Available at: