JAMA: Medical marijuana ‘may be substituting for opioids for cancer-related pain’

Medical marijuana legalization between 2012 and 2017 appeared associated with a lower rate of opioid prescriptions and pain-related hospitalization among some adults being treated for newly diagnosed cancer, according to a study.

“We know that opioid use is declining among patients with cancer and that marijuana use is increasing among them; this increase is related to the recent wave of medical marijuana legalization,” Yuhua Bao, PhD, associate professor of population health sciences at Weill Cornell Medical College, told Healio. “We do not know if medical marijuana legalization has led to changes in opioid use for patients with cancer and what the implications are for pain management outcomes.”

In the cross-sectional study, published in JAMA Oncology, Bao and colleagues reviewed 2012 to 2017 national commercial claims data and used a difference-in-differences design to evaluate associations of interest for patients living in 34 states without medical marijuana legalization by Jan. 1, 2012. In a secondary analysis, they assessed differences between medical marijuana legalization with vs. without legal allowances for retail dispensaries. 

The analysis included 38,189 patients newly diagnosed with breast cancer, 12,816 patients with colorectal cancer and 7,190 with lung cancer. Patients identified for inclusion had private insurance, were aged 18 to 64 years and had received anticancer treatment during the 6 months after a new cancer diagnosis.

Read the full research paper here.

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