Some in Medicare Substituting Medical Marijuana for FDA-Approved Drugs — Physician’s First Watch

Medical News |
July 7, 2016

Some in Medicare Substituting Medical Marijuana for FDA-Approved Drugs

By Joe Elia

Edited by Susan Sadoughi, MD

Marijuana, classified as a Schedule I drug by the FDA, is being used in place of FDA-approved drugs in states that have legalized marijuana's medical use, according to a Health Affairs study.

Using Medicare Part D data, researchers examined prescribing patterns and drug-benefit costs between 2010 and 2013. Prescription-drug use in conditions thought to benefit from marijuana use — for example, anxiety, pain, and sleep disorders — dropped in states that had legalized medical marijuana, compared to states without legalization. The use of drugs in conditions not associated with a marijuana benefit, such as antibiotics and anticoagulants, did not differ between the groups of states.

The authors estimate that Medicare spending, both by the program and by its beneficiaries, fell by some $165 million in 2013 as the result of marijuana substitution. They point out that lowered costs are "not a sufficient justification" to legalize medical marijuana — a decision they call "complex and multidimensional."

Reader Comments (1)

David Goheen MD Physician, Orthopedics, retired

When my father-in-law was undergoing chemotherapy, and had tried all the prescription anti-emetics without any relief whatsoever, I sent him some marijuana--it was the only thing that allowed him to eat without vomiting. After he died, I spoke to his oncologist and asked him if he didn't find it frustrating that he couldn't legally prescribe marijuana for his patients. He replied that the anti-emetic drugs he'd given my father-in-law had worked fine. I've no idea where he got that from, but I think his obstinate refusal to accept that it could help isn't all that uncommon .

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