The opioid epidemic continues to devastate communities across the United States. Overdose deaths have skyrocketed, with over 80,000 Americans dying from opioid overdoses in 2021 alone. Millions more suffer from opioid addiction and dependence. As policymakers scramble for solutions, research suggests an unlikely remedy - medical marijuana.
Recent studies have uncovered an intriguing relationship between medical cannabis laws and reductions in health insurance costs. States with legal medical marijuana have experienced substantial decreases in insurance premiums, connected to lower rates of opioid prescriptions and overdoses. Could increased access to medical cannabis provide relief amid this public health crisis?
Marijuana Laws Linked to Lower Insurance Premiums
A new study in the International Journal of Drug Policy analyzed a decade's worth of private insurance data, finding significant drops in premiums in states with legal medical cannabis. By seven years after implementing medical marijuana laws, annual premiums dropped by over $1,600 compared to states without such laws.
Researchers believe this stems from reduced spending on opioid medications and healthcare services related to pain management and addiction. Medical marijuana gives patients an alternative for chronic pain treatment while cutting back on reliance on opioids. This translates to fewer opioid prescriptions, hospitalizations, and overdose deaths - savings that get passed on in the form of lower premiums.
Importantly, these premium reductions benefited both cannabis users and non-users within a state. Due to insurance pooling, the savings get shared across the health plan. As medical marijuana access increases, in other words, everyone's premiums may drop.
Potential Risks of Marijuana Use
While we support legalization, it's important to consider the risks associated with marijuana use. There’s concern about the potential for addiction, particularly in young people. Additionally, driving under the influence of cannabis poses a significant risk to public safety. Interestingly, according to , marijuana users are more likely to be involved in crashes. However, it's worth noting that this increased risk may, in part, be due to the fact that marijuana users are more likely to be young men, who are generally at a higher risk of crashes.
For those predisposed to mental health conditions, marijuana may exacerbate underlying illnesses.
There are also health effects of marijuana smoking to consider, which could undo some of the progress made around reducing cigarette smoking. And many find public cannabis smoking a nuisance as the smell spreads. Fortunately, cannabis comes in many different forms like gummies, chocolates, caramels, drinks and more.
While research continues, medical marijuana shows promise for relieving pain when used properly. But like any medication, it requires caution and awareness of potential adverse effects. More study is still needed on its long-term public health impact.
More Research Needed on Large Scale
Although initial findings show a correlation between medical marijuana laws and lower premiums, researchers caution more study is needed to confirm the relationship and determine causation. The impact on wider state and national healthcare spending also remains uncertain. And early evidence suggests the effect may vary based on how long marijuana has been legal in a state.
Medical marijuana is not a complete solution to the opioid epidemic, but it has the potential to be a helpful strategy. Legalizing and regulating it could provide a new way to relieve pain and reduce healthcare costs. However, it's important to carefully evaluate the benefits and risks. States are making progress in fighting the crisis by implementing and monitoring medical marijuana. Our state of North Carolina has yet to implement a regulated cannabis market, and it may not happen anytime soon. In the meantime, you can access high-quality hemp extracted THC.