By Anthony Martinelli

By Anna Bose, TheJointBlog.com Contributing Author

If medical marijuana were legally available in all 50 states, Medicare could save more than $470 million each year. That’s one of the conclusions of a recent study published in Health Affairs. The study, published on July 7, evaluated 2010 to 2013 data from Medicare Part D, which covers the costs of prescription medicines. In 2013 alone, Medicare saved $165 million, and there was a corresponding drop in doses of painkillers prescribed by doctors in states where marijuana is legally available.

Professor of Public Policy at the University of Georgia, W. David Bradshaw, one of the study’s authors, said he and his colleagues see “…pretty good evidence that people are using [marijuana] as medication.” The researchers noted that in states that had legalized the use of marijuana for therapeutic purposes, there was a corresponding drop in prescriptions used to treat symptoms for which marijuana is sometimes recommended, including chronic pain, anxiety, depression, psychosis, seizures and sleep disorders. On average, that drop amounted to about 1,800 doses per doctor each year.

Bradshaw pointed out that this and the study’s other findings should be part of the public discussion. He and his fellow researchers are finalizing research into how Medicaid—the health insurance program for low-income people—is affected by legalization, and they are seeing even greater cost savings there.

Currently, 25 states, along with Washington, D.C., make the use of marijuana legal for therapeutic purposes, and the issue will be voted on in Florida and Arkansas this November. As more states vote to legalize medical marijuana, and as the costs of much more risky medications like morphine and oxycodone, overdoses of which can cause death, the issues highlighted in this study will become more and more relevant.

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