Pain Patients Reduce Prescription Drug Use with Medical Cannabis

A new study indicates that chronic pain patients registered with their state’s medical marijuana program are more likely to reduce their prescription drug use.

Findings in a new study published online in the Journal of Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine suggest that chronic pain patients who incorporate medical cannabis into their treatment regimens are more likely to reduce their intake of prescription drugs.

Researchers from the University of New Mexico compared the prescription drug use behaviors over a 2-year period in 83 pain patients enrolled in the state’s medical cannabis program and 42 pain patients who were not enrolled. On average, those patients who were registered for medical marijuana in New Mexico significantly reduced their prescription drug intake. Non-enrolled patients did not reduce their prescription drug use.

“Legal access to cannabis may reduce the use of multiple classes of dangerous prescription medications in certain patient populations,” the researchers concluded. “[A] shift from prescriptions for other scheduled drugs to cannabis may result in less frequent interactions with our conventional healthcare system and potentially improved patient health.”

The data showed that 34 percent of medical cannabis registered patients were able to completely eliminate their use of prescription altogether by the end of the study. An additional 36 percent of registered participants were found to have used fewer medications by the end.

The findings reinforce a growing body of evidence indicating that legal access to cannabis reduces prescription drug use. In one study, access to legal medical marijuana was shown to cause a dramatic decrease in prescriptions written under Medicaid, with the most significant drop found in pain management prescriptions. Researchers from the Bastyr University Research Institute found earlier this year that patients diagnosed with pain, anxiety, and depression are increasingly using cannabis in place of prescription drugs. An observational study published this past spring showed that prescribing medical cannabis caused a sharp drop in the reliance of anxiety and pain patients on a prescription drug. Last year, researchers from the University of Georgia found prescription drug use to be down significantly in states with legalized medical marijuana.

Researchers and medical experts have suggested that cannabis as a safer alternative to prescription drugs could play an important role in addressing the nation’s opioid crisis, which claimed the lives of more than 33,000 people in 2015. Studies suggest that cannabis possesses a wide array of therapeutic potential, including pain-relieving properties. Renowned pain physician Bruce D. Nicholson uses his Pennsylvania-based healthcare organization to focus on encouraging the use of cannabis as a safer alternative to opioids.

Medical marijuana has been legalized in 29 U.S. states and Washington D.C. Despite the attempts by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to interfere with the nation’s medical marijuana industry, market analysts believe legalization could reach all 50 U.S. states within the next few years.

The new study – “Effects of legal access to cannabis on Scheduled II-V drug prescriptions” – is accessible through the Journal of Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine.

You can learn about the current cannabis laws in the U.S. and what research into cannabis has so far discovered through our research and education page. Keep up with the latest cannabis-related studies by regularly visiting our news page.