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New Jersey to Allow Medical Marijuana for Treatment of Chronic Pain, Migraines

As eligible conditions expanded, opioid use may be reduced

A PPM Brief

In an expansion of New Jersey’s medicinal marijuana program, Governor Phil Murphy has announced that doctors in the state may now recommend medical marijuana treatment for patients with chronic pain symptoms and migraines, along with anxiety and Tourette’s syndrome, according to a news release.1 The update also includes provisions for patients to pay lower registration fees, an increase in distributors, and fewer bureaucratic obstacles. 

The expansion of eligible conditions, which will now include those medical conditions affecting the musculoskeletal system, is expected to draw in thousands of patients into the state program, which already has approximately 18,874 patients registered.

Currently, there are just over 530 physicians registered in the medicinal marijuana program out of 28,000 doctors in the state. New Jersey has five dispensaries (a sixth is soon to open) that may apply to open satellite retail locations and add new cultivation sites. The Murphy administration also said that it will license more companies to grow, cultivate, and sell the product, a process that should take around one year.1

Opioid Use in Medical Marijuana States

Recent research suggests that expanding access to medical marijuana programs such as this could help ease the abundance of opioids prescribed and lower the rate of abuse and misuse associated with them. Findings from Bradford et al,2 shows that patients in states that can easily obtain medical marijuana are less likely to seek prescription opioids. By looking at Medicare data, mostly of patients over age 65, the research team found a 14% reduction in opioid prescriptions in states with these programs in place.

Dispensary programs reduced the number of opioid prescriptions by 3.7 million daily doses, and states that allowed homegrown marijuana for medical use saw 1.8 million fewer pills dispensed per day, the researchers estimated. The study reflects the slowing of the increase of opioid use at the time of the study, and not an overall decline in opioid use in these states, however.2

A similar report3 added more data to the effect that these programs have on opioid use. Medical marijuana programs “have the potential to reduce opioid prescribing for Medicaid enrollees, a segment of population with disproportionately high risk for chronic pain, opioid use disorder and opioid overdose,” wrote the authors of another study. “Nevertheless, marijuana liberalization alone cannot solve the opioid epidemic,” they concluded.

While the Bradford analysis did not prove that state programs reduced opioid use, the research did find a correlation. More factors (eg, the balancing of benefits versus risks, the “gateway” nature of marijuana use, etc.) may be further considered.

Last updated on: April 9, 2018
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