Legalization of Cannabis Means More People May Be Opting Out of Meds

Updated: Sep 16

by Shawn Radcliff, Fact checked by Jennifer Chesak

Healthline

September 9, 2022



  • As states across the U.S. continue to ease cannabis restrictions and legalize medicinal and recreational use, reliance on prescription medication may be declining.

  • In fact, new research estimates that legalizing cannabis at the federal level could cost the pharmaceutical industry billions.

  • While cannabis can offer an alternative to prescriptions like opioids, experts say that people should talk with their doctor before swapping their medication.

Legalizing cannabis at the federal level and expanding access in U.S. states where it is still illegal could reduce sales of prescription and over-the-counter drugs by billions of dollars, researchers say...


The belief is that once cannabis is legal, many consumers will use it to treat health conditions such as chronic pain and insomnia, instead of reaching for pharmaceutical drugs.


Drop in prescription drug spending


In the study, published August 31 in the journal PLoS ONETrusted Source, researchers examined stock market returns data from 1996 through 2019 for over 500 pharmaceutical companies...


As a result, researchers found that drugmaker returns were 1.5% to 2% lower 10 days after cannabis legalization, compared to what they might have been without legalization.


Based on these figures, researchers estimate that each time cannabis was legalized for medical use, annual pharmaceutical drug sales in the United States dropped an average of $2.4 billion....


Using these results, researchers estimate that if the remaining U.S. states without legal access to cannabis were to pass medical-use cannabis laws, pharmaceutical sales would drop by $38.4 billion, or about 10.8% of total sales...


The study also has several limitations, which the researchers pointed out in their paper.


Their analysis includes only publicly-traded companies, so the results could be an underestimate of the impact of cannabis legalization on pharmaceutical drug sales...


Response of pharmaceutical industry


...The Washington Post reports that some drug makers have funneled money to anti-cannabis groups, lobbied federal agencies directly, and provided funding to academics opposed to legalization.


Other companies are trying to cash in on the public’s interest in the benefits of cannabis...


However, even the 10.8% drop in total drug sales estimated by the authors of the new study may not be insurmountable for the pharmaceutical industry...


Cannabis curbs opioid use


In a study published last year in the journal Pain MedicineTrusted Source, researchers found that prescription opioid use by Canadian medical cannabis patients decreased over a 6-month period — dropping from 28% of participants at the start of the study to 11%...


In addition to the drop in prescription opioid use, researchers saw a decrease in the percentage of patients using non-opioid pain medications, antidepressants, anti-seizure medications, and benzodiazepine...


Studies such as this come at a time when both the United States and Canada are dealing with an opioid crisis...


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