A study to be published in the journal Applied Health Economics and Health Policy found that the legalization of cannabis resulted in a “significant decrease” in the volume of opioid prescriptions across Canada.
Nearly 18,000 Canadians died of opioid-related overdoses from January 2016 to June 2020, according to the federal public health infobase.
“Our results support the hypothesis that easier access to cannabis for pain can reduce opioid use for both public and private drug plans,” the abstract of the study said.
The study worked with national data on prescription claims by private and public payers between January 2016 and June 2019, tracking total prescribing volumes and total spending on opioids before and after cannabis legalization.
The researchers considered morphine, codeine, fentanyl, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, meperidine, oxycodone, tramadol, and the non-opioids gabapentin and pregabalin, which were analyzed separately from the opioids. All opioid volumes were converted into a mean morphine equivalent dose.
The study found that after legalization, monthly opioid spending by public payers fell from $ 267,000 per month to $ 95,000 and that the average dose also decreased from 22.3 milligrams per claim to 4.1 mg.
In a blog post, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws notes that the results are in line with previous studies that found that access to cannabis was linked to a decline in overall prescription drug activity.
A 2020 study published in the Journal of Health Economics found that increasing access to low-THC and high-CBD products in Italy resulted in a significant decrease in the number of anxiolytics, sedatives and antipsychotics dispensed.