Medical marijuana could help quell the ongoing opioid epidemic, a pair of new studies contends.

Opioid prescriptions tend to decrease in U.S. states that adopt medical marijuana laws or legalize recreational use of pot, two different research teams have concluded.

The studies couldn't prove cause and effect. But one study found that opioids dispensed through Medicare's prescription drug plan decreased significantly if people had access to medical pot dispensaries or were allowed to grow marijuana for their own use.

"We had about a 14.5 percent reduction in opiate use when states turned on dispensaries, and about a 7 percent reduction in opiate use when states turned on home cultivation-based cannabis laws," said researcher David Bradford, chairman of public policy at the University of Georgia School of Public and International Affairs.

The other study, led by researcher Hefei Wen, from the University of Kentucky College of Public Health, found a decrease in opioid prescriptions covered by Medicaid in states that legalized either medicinal or recreational pot.

Both types of laws were linked to about a 6 percent decline in opioid prescribing, researchers reported.

"We do think there's good reason to be hopeful that cannabis might be one tool out of many we could use to address the opioid epidemic," Bradford said.

Drug overdoses killed nearly 64,000 Americans in 2016, with two-thirds of deaths involving a prescription or illicit opioid, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last week. Overdose deaths rose 21.5 percent in 2016, a much sharper spike than the 11.4 percent increase seen the previous year.

At this point, 30 states and the District of Columbia have laws legalizing some form of marijuana use, including eight states that have legalized recreational use.

Studies have found medical pot is effective in treating chronic pain, Bradford said. In 2017, the prestigious National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine issued a report concluding that pot can significantly reduce pain symptoms.

Both research teams suspected that if this were true, then medical marijuana might ease opioid use in people with chronic pain.

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