Increasingly gaining ground as an accepted medicine by top health associations, researchers, and medical journals, the marijuana industry continues its massive expansion, with legalization encompassing more than half the U.S. Predicted to expand nationwide by 2021 by investment firm The Motley Fool, other sectors of the economy are feeling the strain of the industry’s new growth – but no one greater than Big Pharma.

Marijuana & Pharmaceutical Market Share
In an effort to determine how cannabis cash flow is effecting the pharmaceutical industry, researchers at the University of Georgia uncovered just how much of the pharmaceutical pie is being gobbled-up in medical marijuana states – and the results were stark: The average doctor in cannabis-friendly states prescribed 265 fewer dosages of antidepressants, 486 less anti-seizure meds, 541 fewer anti-nausea doses, 562 less anti-anxiety meds, and a whopping 1,826 less doses of pain medications, saving the government’s Medicare Part-D program an estimated $165 million on prescription pills. Taking that total nationwide, an estimated $470 million would disappear from Big Pharma’s annual revenue from this avenue alone.

Expanding Data on Marijuana & Opioids Worrisome for Pharma
A 2014 JAMA study stated opiate overdoses dropped roughly 25% in states with legalized medical marijuana, implying patients may be using it for pain treatment – or to lessen their painkiller load. According to according to the report in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, legalization states also failed to see the expected influx of pot smokers through hospital doors – instead experiencing a decline in hospitalization rates for opioid abuse and overdoses, which dropped 23% and 13% respectively, on average.

Fighting Legalization While Simultaneously Developing Synthetic Cannabis Drugs
This big dip in pharmaceutical purchases is hitting Big Pharma hard, and combined with industry interests, is fueling massive donations to anti-marijuana campaigns, making Purdue Pharma (OxyContin) and Abbot Laboratories (Vicodin) some of the largest contributors to the Anti-Drug Coalition of America. Now infamous, Insys Therapeutics, Inc. (Fentanyl), who currently faces multiple federal and state investigations for aggressive sales and marketing practices, donated $500,000 to Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, helping eke out a narrow 51-49 block of Arizona’s 2016 legalization attempt, and making it the only state in which legalization failed in 2016 voting. One of the largest individual contributions to any anti-legalization campaign in history, just five months later Insys won approval for a cannabis-derived pharmaceutical – an anti-nausea drug for AIDS patients – causing cannabis market leaders to reflect on the ethics of Big Pharma’s positioning, and why it has been favored by the DEA and FDA over plants that have already proven effective, safer, and cheaper than prescription drugs.

Stacking the Deck
Few have the resources necessary for this level of lobbying, or to manage the massive fees and extensive oversight necessary to work with the DEA and FDA for testing marijuana usage and product development – but Big Pharma does. It has achieved approval for other drugs in the past, including synthetic THC med Marinol for cancer and AIDS patients. Two cannabis-infused chewing gums by AXIM Biotech now currently await approval for IBS and MS treatment, as well as a topical for eczema/psoriasis. Kannalife Sciences is also developing new drugs for degenerative brain conditions (hepatic/chronic traumatic encephalopathy). Once approved, the drugs are classified separately from Schedule I whole plant marijuana products, their kissing cannabis cousins, and 100% legal with a script.

Are You Ready for a Changing of the Tides?
The workers compensation world is sure to experience turmoil over the upcoming years as changing legislation and front runners in the marketplace scramble for their share of the pie.

About the Author:  Anthony Sambucini is a founding principal and the Chief Executive Officer of ANS Solutions. Anthony specializes in bridging the goals of clinical innovation and business strategy that have helped propel ANS Solutions into a national leader in Pharmacotherapy Review Services for workers’ comp insurers. As a consultant to insurance carriers and attorneys, Anthony customizes services based on the particular needs of the client and oversees all activities related to business development and company operations. For more information visit .