It's time to revise that dusty relic of a phrase used by ignorant prohibitionists—"Marijuana is a gateway drug"— to the far more enlightened and accurate "Cannabis is an exit drug." On Monday, the New York Times reported on two new studies by the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, coming to the conclusion that states with legal cannabis also have fewer prescriptions for opioids.
The studies didn't take the approach that other recent studies have, such as trying to determine if opioid addiction and overdoses can be mitigated by cannabis. (Spoiler: They can.) Rather, they looked at the role cannabis can play in reducing opioid prescriptions. Despite the idea of "street drugs" being the driving force in the opioid crisis, over-prescribing is huge factor. Fewer opioid prescriptions means fewer potential bad things happening.
The first study, as the NY Times reports:
"looked at trends in opioid prescribing under Medicaid, which covers low-income adults, between 2011 and 2016. It compared the states where marijuana laws took effect versus states without such laws. The comparison was done each quarter, so a given state without a law at one point could join the other category once a law kicked in."
They found that if patients were allowed to use cannabis for specific medical conditions, they reduced their opioid prescriptions by 6 percent, or 39 less prescriptions for every 1,000 Medicaid recipients.
But wait—when states that had medical programs for cannabis already in place passed adult-use (recreational) cannabis programs, there was a further reduction of another 6 percent, demonstrating why the limited number of qualifying conditions for admittance to a medical cannabis program may be excluding individuals most in need of access.
In the second study, researchers looked at Medicare users 65 years or older, and those with disabilities. From the NY Times:
Every year from 2010 through 2015, researchers compared states with a medical marijuana law in effect to those without one. Fourteen states plus the District of Columbia had such a law from the beginning of that time; nine other states joined them during the years the study covered.
Researchers found that Medicare patients in states with marijuana dispensaries filled prescriptions for about 14 percent fewer daily doses of opioids than those in other states. Patients in states that only allowed them to grow pot at home showed about 7 percent fewer doses.
Cannabis not a gateway drug, and it never was.