Study: medical cannabis reduces health costs

Research now supports the assumption that in places that allow the use of medicinal cannabis the rates of painkiller abuse and overdoses “fell sharply”. This reduces costs.

“The results suggest people are really using marijuana as medicine and not just using it for recreational purposes.”

Washington Post: One striking chart shows why pharma companies are fighting legal marijuana

There’s a body of research showing that painkiller abuse and overdose are lower in states with medical marijuana laws. These studies have generally assumed that when medical marijuana is available, pain patients are increasingly choosing pot over powerful and deadly prescription narcotics. But that’s always been just an assumption.

Now a new study, released in the journal Health Affairs, validates these findings by providing clear evidence of a missing link in the causal chain running from medical marijuana to falling overdoses.

The study found that, in the 17 states with a medical-marijuana law in place by 2013, prescriptions for painkillers and other classes of drugs fell sharply compared with states that did not have a medical-marijuana law.

The drops were quite significant: In medical-marijuana states, the average doctor prescribed 265 fewer doses of antidepressants each year, 486 fewer doses of seizure medication, 541 fewer anti-nausea doses and 562 fewer doses of anti-anxiety medication.

But most strikingly, the typical physician in a medical-marijuana state prescribed 1,826 fewer doses of painkillers in a given year.


The study ran a similar analysis on drug categories that pot typically is not recommended for — blood thinners, anti-viral drugs and antibiotics. And on those drugs, they found no changes in prescribing patterns after the passage of marijuana laws.

“This provides strong evidence that the observed shifts in prescribing patterns were in fact due to the passage of the medical marijuana laws,” they write.

“The results suggest people are really using marijuana as medicine and not just using it for recreational purposes.”

But pharmaceutical companies have been strongly opposing liberalisation of cannabis laws.

These companies have long been at the forefront of opposition to marijuana reform,funding research by anti-pot academics and funneling dollars to groups, such as the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, that oppose marijuana legalization.

Pharmaceutical companies have also lobbied federal agencies directly to prevent the liberalization of marijuana laws.

Cannabis is easy to grow and products are difficult to patent so companies cannot protect their markets except by cutting competition out of the equation through laws.

In what may be the most concerning finding for the pharmaceutical industry, the Bradfords took their analysis a step further by estimating the cost savings to Medicare from the decreased prescribing.

They found that about $165 million was saved in the 17 medical marijuana states in 2013. In a back-of-the-envelope calculation, the estimated annual Medicare prescription savings would be nearly half a billion dollars if all 50 states were to implement similar programs.

Presumably states in the US would also benefit from sales taxes and reduced policing costs.

The New Zealand Treasury has estimated (Legal cannabis could collect $150 million a year but Bill English isn’t pursuing it):

Collecting an extra $150 million a year in tax revenue at a time when the health, education and housing sectors are all screaming out for money – sounds like a no-brainer, right?

The catch? Legalising cannabis.

This week Nelson lawyer Sue Grey revealed through an Official Information Act request some informal notes from Treasury, which calculated that legalisation would not only generate money,  but also save $400m a year on enforcement of drug prohibition.

So allowing the legal use of medical products derived from cannabis would have significant health benefits and significant cost benefits.

But Bill English and National continue to oppose any liberalisation of cannabis laws.

So people suffer more than they should, or they openly flout the law:

Helen Kelly: ‘My back is broken and I only have months to live but I’m pain free’

Tumours have broken Helen Kelly’s back and she only has months to live but illegally taking cannabis means she’s pain free.

The former Council of Trade Unions president was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer in February last year and was initially given about seven weeks to live.

“I am going to die very soon, there’s no cure, it’s grown like crazy.”

“Cannabis is the only thing that gives me relief, it lets me sleep all night.”

“I’m not a hippy but I’m amazed how it works…people use it on their arthritis with incredible results.”

“It’s wonderful – but illegal.”

The Government could quite easily make a real difference to many people’s lives, people who are suffering.

Treasury has even provided Bill English with a cost benefit analysis. The US study backs this – it “found that the use of prescription drugs for which marijuana could serve as a clinical alternative fell significantly, once a medical marijuana law was implemented”.

English and National refusing to consider any law change is hard to comprehend.

Leave a comment


  1. good post PG

    Why is this Govt. staunchly opposed to medicinal use (except sativex) ?
    maybe Big Pharma are ‘proving them financial incentives’ to keep it under their control only ? 😦

    Dunne has stated that ‘Cannabis is pharmaceutical only’.. BUT also said ‘synthetic cannabis’ was less harmful than the natural, raw herb !
    How can anyone take him (or this Govt.) seriously on this issue ?

    • Gezza

       /  25th July 2016

      I agree with the Post, PG, and with you Zedd. Andrew Little has said Labour will legislate for medicinal cannabis “pretty quickly” after taking office.

      “Little said cannabis products should be available to anyone suffering chronic pain or a terminal condition if their GP signed off on it.

      Labour MP Damien O’Connor has drafted a bill for Parliament that would shift the onus of decision making on medicinal cannabis away from the minister to GPs and medical professionals.”

      The problem seems to be that this issue is not getting enough traction with enough voters to prompt yet another of the PM’s poll-driven sudden changes of heart & policy.

      • Bill

         /  25th July 2016

        GPs themselves are a product of the pharmaceutical industry, I’m yet to hear a of a GP advising patients to take vitamins or health supplements either and yet the pharmaceutical industry wants total control over this industry as well. The Cannabis plant is not a pharmaceutical in it raw plant form, just like Oranges shouldn’t be classified as a precursor of Vitamin C.

        If the pharmaceutical industry comes up with novel new drugs derived from Cannabis, power to them. But to claim total ownership of the plant itself and simple compounds derived from it is a step to far.

        Lets stop thinking the only way forward for Cannabis must involve the pharmaceutical industry because that’s not true, it could be legalized tomorrow using the same rules of Law that doesn’t recognize Alcohol as a Drug. Alcohol, Cannabis, Tobacco and Drugs.
        This was no impediment when Dunne decided to make harmful synthetics available for sale and these products never inferred any health benefits, maybe that’s why.

        • @Bill

          well said.. 🙂

          btw; i read that cannabis in its ‘raw form’ is often not considered ‘medicinal’, BUT is considered ‘Therapeutic’ which effectively removed the ‘Big pharma BOOT’ off it (in Canada, USA, Australia, much of EU & other OECD etc.)
          BUT ‘Team Key’ just refuse to take their blinkers off OR look beyond this B-S they are pushing onto a mostly ill-informed NZ public !!

          I still sometimes hear/read ‘It is banned under UN conventions’ BUT if you actually read the preamble statement.. it clearly states that medicinal (or perhaps therapeutic) & scientific uses are exempt from any bans. BUT again Disinformation rules, here in NZ 😦

          • Bill

             /  25th July 2016

            It makes me sad to see how someone like Helen Kelly feels she needs to point out “I’m not a hippy but I’m amazed how it works…people use it on their arthritis with incredible results.”

            “It’s wonderful – but illegal.” I don’t care if she is a hippy and only goes to show how marginalized people feel when admitting its use, even in the face of death.

            People ask why we can’t have a real conversation, This is why.

            • Gezza

               /  25th July 2016

              I can’t think of anything we can do to get more people interested in this issue Bill – that’s the saddest thing about it. Not enough people care about to get the government off its arse & moving on it.

  2. Bill

     /  25th July 2016

    There’s none so blind as those with a different agenda, facts seem to carry very little weight with this Government.

    Its been interesting over the last few days viewing the reaction to the latest revelations, that

  3. I think the reluctance to reform cannabis law in NZ is about – (in no particular order) –

    1. Votes – The Nats need to have clear opinion poll evidence that any policy is a winner. They need the pro-reform lobby to top 50% of voters and a much greater majority of their own supporters. The problem is the conservative element, who, of course, needn’t take the drug or use the substance … The ‘up side’, as Gezza points out, is there’s plenty of evidence of National changing tack on issues due to public/media pressure. Message = Keep up the pressure.

    2. Big Pharma – This stands to reason, the whole intricate money-web of allopathic medicine will inevitably try to protect itself. I can’t see an upside here yet …

    3. ‘Processed Product’ vs ‘Fresh Produce’ – There’s more to Bill’s point about Oranges and Vitamin C than meets the eye. Even the producers of ‘supplements’ probably don’t really want people eating fresh produce. The whole money-web of society is aimed at processed products. I feel sure this played a part in Dunne’s hideous decision to favour synthetics? Packaged, synthesised products are perceived as much more manageable, and no doubt easier to test, distribute, sell and tax?

    The experience of nations who have legalised or decriminalised should be making inroads into this perception?

    The upside is there’s a fairly healthy home-brew industry in liquor, a ‘drug’ known to be vastly more harmful than marijuana. One can only hope that an alignment of ethics and policy will demonstrate that a home-grow allowance – like legalisation with regulated production & sale – can do little harm by comparison to alcohol?

    • @PZ

      maybe you could add another issue : APATHY

      I actually think, that unless it effects them directly, most kiwis just dont really care !!!! 😦

      • Bill

         /  26th July 2016

        Yeah I agree Zedd, APATHY and the fear of being defined by this subject, this is similar to many social issues. You don’t have to be Gay to see the harm this community faced through unjust laws. Just as you don’t have to agree with Prostitution, to see that everyone deserves the same rights and protection under the law.

        I’m interested to see how the Alcohol Cancer thing plays out and the role that denial will play in how people view their drinking. I’ve already heard everything causes Cancer, you’ve got to die of something, is this not yet a another form of APATHY. If however Alcohol users are right to view their rights this way, why can’t they extent those rights to Cannabis users as well.

        Live and let live people.

        • Zedd

           /  26th July 2016

          couldn’t agree more 🙂

          I think many people, may support the issue (in secret) BUT dont want to labeled ‘DRUGGIE’ or similar, even if they dont even use it.

          NZ still attaches a HUGE stigma to cannabis.. even though according to UN reports, we are at the top of the list of use (per capita) in the world.. go figure :/


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