Survey: Medical Cannabis Frequently Used as a Substitute for Prescription Medicines

Aarhus, Denmark: Europeans who consume cannabis for medical purposes frequently report using it to replace prescription medications, according to survey data published in The Harm Reduction Journal.

A team of Dutch researchers surveyed over 2,800 medical cannabis consumers. Over half of respondents (56 percent) reported using cannabis “for the purpose of replacing a prescribed drug.”

Those who reported engaging in drug substitution were most likely to do so for pain medications, specifically opioids, as well as for anti-depressants, and arthritis medications.

Forty-six percent of respondents said that their use of medical cannabis led them to “substantially decrease” their use of prescription medications, while 38 percent reported ceasing their use of at least one prescription medicine. Sixty-six percent of respondents perceived cannabis to be “much more effective” than prescription drugs and 86 percent said that it possessed a more favorable side-effect profile.

Numerous studies of North American patients have reported similar findings.

Authors concluded: “Findings from our sample show that most substitution users find CaM [cannabis as medicine] more effective in managing their condition(s) compared to prescription drugs, and that an overwhelming majority found CaM to have a better side effect profile compared to the prescription drugs that they had been prescribed for their condition(s). … Findings from our study add to the growing body of research indicating that from a user perspective, CaM has a substantial substitution effect for a variety of prescription drugs, most notably opioids.”

Full text of the study, “Exploring the use of cannabis as a substitute for prescription drugs in a convenience sample,” appears in the Harm Reduction Journal. Additional information is available from the NORML fact sheet, “Relationship Between Marijuana and Opioids.”