According to new research, there are less opioid prescriptions on average in U.S. states where medical and recreational marijuana are legal.

Authors of a paper published in the Journal of Health Economics, have found that recreational marijuana laws could make it easier for patients to access the drug, and use it to treat pain and other conditions.

Access to recreational cannabis in the U.S. saw an 11.8 percent lower rate of opioids prescriptions each day, and 4.2 percent for medical marijuana.

The study also revealed that family physicians gave out more opioids than any other healthcare specialty, such as dentists or nurses.

The authors looked at data on over 1.5 billion individual opioid prescriptions between 2011 and 2018.

“Cannabis access laws could be a useful tool in combatting the prescription opioid epidemic,” the researchers wrote.

“While state governments have enacted various policies to curtail opioid prescriptions, e.g., prescription drug monitoring programs, many of these policies simply limit access to opioids and may push individuals already dependent on prescription opioids to more dangerous drugs, such as heroin,” they also said.

“Thus, policies that reduce opioid prescriptions without leading individuals to substitute more dangerous drugs may be preferable to policies that simply restrict opioid prescriptions.”

The researchers did note that the study was limited because they did not have access to data on patients because of confidentiality. This means they could not look for patterns of problematic patterns of opioid prescription.

“While the results here do not suggest that cannabis access laws are the only tool to address prescription opioid use, they do suggest that cannabis access laws could play a meaningful role in addressing the opioid epidemic,” said the authors.

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