In the United States, medical marijuana has now been legalised in 24 states. Marijuana can serve as an alternative to other medicines, such as painkillers, which could affect how doctors prescribe.
To find out, researchers at the University of Georgia analysed prescription data from Medicare records, the US government’s health insurance programme, between 2010 and 2013.
They found that the introduction of medical marijuana legislation was linked to a decrease in prescriptions for drugs used to treat conditions such as depression, anxiety and pain. But not for drugs like antibiotics, for which marijuana is not an alternative. In 2013, this saved around US$165.2m in Medicare payments across the 17 states and the District of Columbia, where marijuana was legal.
Reporting in Health Affairs (online, 6 July 2016)
, the authors say these savings should be considered when marijuana policy changes are discussed.