Study: Medical Cannabis Patients Reduce Their Use Of Opioids

Victoria, Canada: Patients with legal access to medical cannabis reduce their use of opioids, benzodiazepines, and other prescription drugs, according to data published online ahead of print in The International Journal of Drug Policy.

Researchers at the University of Victoria and the University of British Columbia assessed the use of medical cannabis and prescription drugs in a cohort of 277 patients registered in the Canadian government’s medical marijuana program. Sixty-three percent of the respondents reported substituting cannabis for prescription medications. Patients were most likely to report using cannabis in lieu of opioids (32 percent). Patients also reported using cannabis in place of benzodiazepines (16 percent) and anti-depressants (12 percent).

Respondents were most likely to reduce their use of prescription medications because they believed that cannabis posed fewer adverse side effects. Respondents also reported that “cannabis is safer” than prescription alternatives and that it provides “better symptom management.”

Authors concluded: “The finding that patients using cannabis to treat pain-related conditions have a higher rate of substitution for opioids, and that patients self-reporting mental health issues have a higher rate of substitution for benzodiazepines and antidepressants has significant public health implications. In light of the growing rate of morbidity and mortality associated with these prescription medications, cannabis could play a significant role in reducing the health burden of problematic prescription drug use.”

The study’s conclusions are consistent with those of prior reports finding that patients with legal access to cannabis spend less money on conventional prescription drugs, and are less likely to use or abuse opioids.

For more information, please contact Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director, at: Full text of the study, “Medical cannabis access, use, and substitution for prescription opioids and other substances: A survey of authorized medical cannabis patients,” appears in The International Journal of Drug Policy.