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People are Using Cannabis in Place of Prescription Drugs, New Study Finds

Individuals are using cannabis as a substitute for prescription drugs, particularly to treat pain, anxiety and depression, according to a new study.

Findings in a new study published this month in Journal of Pain Research indicate that individuals are using cannabis in place of prescription drugs, regardless of whether they are registered medical marijuana users. The survey, conducted by researchers from the Bastyr University Research Institute, found that people are opting to use marijuana to treat their pain, anxiety and depression.

Nearly half of respondents (46 percent) in the self-selected national sample of 2,774 self-identified marijuana consumers reported using cannabis in place of prescription medications. Participants were found to be most commonly using marijuana in place of pain-relieving narcotics and opioids (36 percent), anti-anxiety drugs like anxiolytics and benzodiazepenes (14 percent), and antidepressants (13 percent).

Previous research has also suggested that more people now favor cannabis over opioids and other drugs. Several studies conducted recently have found that providing legal access to medical marijuana significantly reduced medical prescriptions and associated insurance costs. Last month, a study found that 45 percent of pain and anxiety patients in Canada that used marijuana were able to eliminate their intake of prescription pain and anxiety medications. Substituting prescription medications in favor of medical marijuana also appears to be more common among veterans, who are increasingly using the substance for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and chronic pain.

“These data contribute to a growing body of literature suggesting cannabis, legal or otherwise, is being used as a substitute for prescription rugs, particularly pain relievers,” the study’s authors concluded.

Medical Marijuana Research

While cannabis remains federally classified as a Schedule I substance, 29 U.S. states have legalized marijuana for medical purposes, and nearly all of those have approved cannabis for the specific treatment of chronic or severe pain. Findings in the study suggest, however, that the legalization status of marijuana plays little role in whether consumers decide to replace their prescriptions with cannabis. Only a slightly higher percentage of those who reported substituting cannabis for prescription drugs resided in states where medical marijuana was legal at the time of the survey (47 percent vs. 44 percent).

“Despite the illegality of cannabis in many states and the lack of professional guidance on dosing, routes of delivery and inadequate standardization or quality control for medical use, individuals are taking it upon themselves to augment, or discontinue, US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved drugs in favor of a largely unregulated herbal one,” the researchers concluded.

Overall, 1,248 of the 2,774 respondents reported a total of 2,473 substitutions of prescription drugs. Women were found to more likely replace prescription drugs with cannabis than men, and the odds of substituting cannabis for prescription drugs increased with age.

You can read the entire study, “Cannabis as a substitute for prescription drugs – a cross-sectional study,” via Dove Press.

Learn more about studies investigating cannabis’ efficacy for treating pain, anxiety and depression by visiting our education page. Regularly visit our news feed to keep up with the latest cannabis-related research.