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Medical marijuana may increase productivity in older adults, Johns Hopkins study suggests

Posted at 7:30 AM, Mar 20, 2019

BALTIMORE — In states where medical marijuana is legal, researchers reported a reduction of pain and an increase in worked hours by residents older than 51 who use the alternative medicine, according to a new study released by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Temple University.

The study, titled “The Effect of Medical Marijuana Laws on Health and Labor Supply,” appeared in the spring 2019 issue of the “Journal of Policy Analysis and Management.” It suggests medical marijuana laws may improve the health and employment prospects of older Americans.

“Our study is important because of the limited availability of clinical trial data on the effects of medical marijuana,” says Lauren Hersch Nicholas, assistant professor in the Bloomberg School’s Department of Health Policy and Management. “While several studies point to improved pain control with medical marijuana, research has largely ignored older adults even though they experience the highest rates of medical issues that could be treated with medical marijuana.” 

Among those who had a health condition that would qualify for medical marijuana in their home state, a 4.8 percent decrease in reported pain and a 6.6 increase in reported "very good or excellent health" were seen in the responses from more than 100,000 survey participants older than 51, according to a statement on the study from the Bloomberg School. The data came from the data from the 1992-2012 Health and Retirement Study, which is the largest nationally representative survey to track health and labor market outcomes for older Americans. Researchers looked for responses and symptoms that might affect a subject’s ability to work.

“The study found that medical marijuana laws lead to increases in full-time work,” a statement from the school said.

Looking at the sample of survey participants who qualified for medical marijuana treatment, researchers found a greater increase in full-time work after laws allowing access to medical cannabis passed in those states. The study suggests that the potential negative effects medical marijuana may have on worker productivity are outweighed by the increased capacity of those under such treatment to work.

The results of the study may inform policy discussions about medical marijuana, potentially broadening support for more research into its use as effective medical treatment, the school said. Currently marijuana’s status as a Schedule 1 drug at the federal level limits opportunities to study the substance and build evidence that could be used for treatment or policy decisions.

Currently 33 states and Washington, D.C., have laws that legalize marijuana for medical use.