By Randy Tucker, New York Times
DAYTON, Ohio — The debate preceding the legalization of medical marijuana in Ohio focused primarily on its risks, but a number of recent studies indicate the benefits of marijuana treatment could mean the difference between life and death in some instances, and even help control Medicare spending.
In the 17 states and District of Columbia that had medical marijuana laws in 2013, Medicare spending on prescriptions fell by about $165 million that year alone as more people turned to marijuana and cannabis-based drugs to treat symptoms normally treated with pharmaceuticals, according to a recent study published in the journal Health Affairs.
Researchers from the University of Georgia, who looked at prescriptions filled by Medicare Prescription Drug Plan enrollees, concluded U.S. taxpayers could save more than $500 million a year in Medicare spending if medical marijuana was legal in every state.
Today, 25 states, including Ohio, and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, and 17 states have laws allowing physicians to prescribe oils derived from marijuana plants. Ohio’s medical marijuana law takes effect Sept. 8.
“Generally, we found that when a medical marijuana law went into effect, prescribing for FDA-approved prescription drugs under Medicare Part D fell substantially,” the researchers reported.
Earlier studies suggest the monetary benefits of medical marijuana pale in comparison to its potential to save lives.
For example, a study by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs found that from 1999 and 2010, states with medical marijuana laws had about a 25 percent lower average annual opioid overdose death rate compared to states without such laws. And mortality rates continued to improve in each year after implementation of the laws, which translated to about 1,729 fewer deaths than expected in 2010.