In a world where good news seems harder and harder to come by, a new study has found something heartening for the future of our country: in states with legal medical marijuana, Medicare prescriptions have dropped for many potentially dangerous mainstream drugs.
Research published Wednesday in Health Affairs studied data from Medicare Part D from 2010 to 2013, specifically Medicare costs on prescription medications. Researchers found a drastic drop in spending on prescriptions for antidepressants and painkillers in states where patients had access to medical marijuana — a widely accepted replacement for those potentially dangerous drugs. What buoyed researchers’ hypothesis that the reason for the drop was medical marijuana is that prescriptions for blood-thinners remained the same, as did other drugs treating conditions for which medical marijuana is not an alternative.
In addition to the drop in opioid painkillers and antidepressants, the study found declines in prescription drugs used to treat anxiety, pain, seizures, nausea, sleep disorders, psychosis, and spasticity — all conditions that medical marijuana can be prescribed to treat.
Overall, researchers found that medical marijuana saved Medicare about $165 million in 2013 alone. They estimated that if medical marijuana were legal nationwide, it would have saved Medicare $470 million in prescription costs.
As of now, 25 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, with Florida and Missouri having the option to legalize by vote this November. Furthermore, thanks to pressure from politicians, public opinion, and federal agencies, the DEA is currently considering reclassifying marijuana from a Schedule I drug (alongside meth, heroin, crack, etc.) to Schedule II (alongside morphine and oxycodone), which, though obviously still ridiculous, would make it much easier for doctors to prescribe cannabis as a treatment and more likely that insurance would cover it.
Currently, medical marijuana patients must pay out of pocket for their medicine. While some states and regions have low-income or veteran MMJ programs, as long as marijuana is a federally illegal, Schedule I substance, no insurance company will even consider covering it.
But with more research like this coming out by the day and public opinion shifting more and more, we can hope that though our country’s political future may seem unbearably bleak, this could be one path out of darkness and ignorance that our nation doesn’t fuck up.