Marijuana may have the reputation for being a gateway drug but can it also be a gateway to lowering prescription drug use? According to a recent study by the University of Georgia, the answer is yes when talking medical marijuana (MM).
Researchers analyzed prescriptions filled by Medicare Part D patients from 2010 to 2013 suffering from anxiety, depression, glaucoma, nausea, pain, psychosis, seizures, sleep disorders and spasticity. The conditions were the only ones approved for alternative medical marijuana treatments by the Food and Drug Administration.
Surprisingly, eight of the nine conditions saw a decrease in filled prescriptions, saving Medicare over $165 million in just 2013 alone, the year 17 states and Washington D.C. had permitted use. Researchers speculated that if MM had been nationally legal the savings would have amounted to approximately $468 million in Medicare drug costs.
Though these numbers are compelling enough to consider it a win for medical marijuana advocates, there are still skeptics weighing out both sides of the issue.
In many cases, the medical benefits from medical marijuana use should be further studied.
For example, medical marijuana is being successfully used to treat patients suffering from epilepsy and has been found to decrease the frequency of seizures, according to a 2015 New York University study. This is quite promising since 30 percent of epileptics do not experience results from conventional prescription treatments.
Alzheimer patients using MM have also experienced a decrease in symptoms and in the production of beta-amyloids, the protein that may be responsible for the progression of the disease. Researchers with the Scripps Research Institute suggest medical marijuana may actually have the potential to prevent or delay the disease.
When it comes to cancer, medical marijuana may also be creating some waves. Studies in animals have shown the plant extract may actually kill certain cancers while other studies have shown it to stop cancer growth all together. For chemotherapy patients, MM has helped manage the nausea that comes as a side effect from the treatments.
Things for glaucoma patients who use medical marijuana are also looking up. THC, the psychoactive ingredient in MM, has been found to lower pressure in the eye. It also seems to lower high blood pressure, a risk that could damage the optic nerves or the cerebral area responsible for processing imagery. These are all promising discoveries considering glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness.
Medical marijuana is also giving a respite to chronic pain patients. Small scale research has shown cannabinoids to have an analgesic effect. One particular study involving 56 patients showed a 30 percent pain reduction in those who smoked the plant. Cannabis-based medicines are now being tested on multiple sclerosis patients who experience severe pain, tremors and stiffness. In an era where opioid use has reached epidemic levels, the legalization of medical marijuana could not have come at a better time.
Though some might argue that medical marijuana advocates may be exaggerating its health benefits, both sides of the aisle may agree that new laws could actually help researchers further their studies on the full impact of the drug.
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