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The Relationship between State Medical Marijuana Laws, Substance Use and Mental Health Disorder Diagnoses, and Associated Health Care Costs: Preliminary Findings

Ali Yurasek
University of Florida

Objective: Marijuana (MJ) use (for both medical and recreational purposes) is increasing among patients following medical marijuana legalization, and it is critical for health professionals to have a better understanding of the relationship between marijuana use and mental health disorders, including substance use disorders (SUDs). Despite the potential of medical MJ to assist with these health conditions, marijuana use is also associated with increased participation in substance use treatment and risk for the development of psychosis and mood-related disorders. Yet, if the passage of medical marijuana laws (MML) is associated with changes in substance use or mental health diagnoses or treatment related health costs remains unclear. The purpose of this study was to examine the association between state MML and substance use and other mental health disorder diagnoses and associated health care costs.

Methods: Using MarketScan Health Claims data, we examined treatment costs associated with 8 different mental health and substance use disorder diagnoses in 2012 and 2018 including: Opioid Use Disorder (OUD), Cannabis Use Disorder (CUD), Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), Post-Traumatic Stress (PTSD) related disorders, Anxiety Disorders (AD), Depressive Disorders (DD), Psychosis related disorders (PD), and Sleep Disorders (SD).

Results: In 2012, 19 states had passed MML. Preliminary independent T-test analyses indicated that in 2012, states that passed MML have higher rates of OUD, CUD, AUD, PTSD, DD, and PD (ps <.001) than those that did not yet pass MML. Similarly, healthcare costs were significantly higher across all disorders examined in states with MML compared to those without MML. A similar pattern of results was observed for the data collected in 2018, by which 34 states passed MML.

Conclusion: Preliminary findings suggest that states with MML have had higher proportions of individuals with disorders related to opioid, cannabis, and alcohol use; and trauma, depression, and psychosis. Similarly, healthcare costs were significantly higher across the disorders examined in states with MML compared to those without MML. More research is needed to examine trends across states and over time to get a better understanding of the influence of MML on the prevalence and costs of these disorders.

Co-authors: JeeWon Cheong1, Ching-Yu Wang1, Joshua Brown1
1University of Florida

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