Literature Review

Medical cannabis does not reduce use of prescription meds



The availability of medical cannabis has little effect on prescription rates of opioids, nonopioid pain medicines, and other pain interventions, according to a new study published in Annals of Internal Medicine.


  • Cannabis advocates suggest that legal medical cannabis can be a partial solution to the opioid overdose crisis in the United States, which claimed more than 80,000 lives in 2021.
  • Current research on how legalized cannabis reduces dependence on prescription pain medication is inconclusive.
  • Researchers examined insurance data for the period 2010-2022 from 583,820 adults with chronic noncancer pain.
  • They drew from 12 states in which medical cannabis is legal and from 17 in which it is not legal to create a hypothetical randomized trial. The control group simulated prescription rates where medical cannabis was not available.
  • Authors evaluated prescription rates for opioids, nonopioid painkillers, and pain interventions, such as physical therapy.


In a given month during the first 3 years after legalization, for states with medical cannabis, the investigators found the following:

  • There was an average decrease of 1.07 percentage points in the proportion of patients who received any opioid prescription, compared to a 1.12 percentage point decrease in the control group.
  • There was an average increase of 1.14 percentage points in the proportion of patients who received any nonopioid prescription painkiller, compared to a 1.19 percentage point increase in the control group.
  • There was a 0.17 percentage point decrease in the proportion of patients who received any pain procedure, compared to a 0.001 percentage point decrease in the control group.


“This study did not identify important effects of medical cannabis laws on receipt of opioid or nonopioid pain treatment among patients with chronic noncancer pain,” according to the researchers.


The study was led by Emma E. McGinty, PhD, of Weill Cornell Medicine, New York, and was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.


The investigators used a simulated, hypothetical control group that was based on untestable assumptions. They also drew data solely from insured individuals, so the study does not necessarily represent uninsured populations.


Dr. McGinty reports receiving a grant from NIDA. Her coauthors reported receiving support from NIDA and the National Institutes of Health.

A version of this article first appeared on

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