Researchers and political leaders have praised the potential of cannabis as a viable alternative to prescription medicine for years. Even the federal government now believes that the plant could curtail current opioid epidemic trends sweeping the country.
People looking for hard proof surrounding this movement can refer to a recent study published in the Journal of Pain Research. Analysts and researchers from the Bastyr University Research Institute, Department of Medical Research, Center for the Study of Cannabis and Social Policy and Center for Medical Cannabis Education joined forces to survey cannabis consumers based in various locations around the US.
The sample consisted of 2,774 individuals, sourced from social media and medical dispensaries in Washington (state). In order to qualify, participants must have consumed cannabis in the past 90 days. Most participants were 22-35 years old, held full-time jobs and resided in the US. Over 59 percent identified themselves as a medical cannabis user.
Results and Substitutions
Over 46 percent (1,248) of surveyed individuals admitted to consuming cannabis with the intention to replace (temporarily or permanently) prescription medicine. Researchers collected 2,473 substitutions, which equates to roughly two entries per respondent in the positive group. This finding emphasizes the plant’s ability to curb multiple conditions at once, due to its diverse molecular profile consisting of robust cannabinoids and terpenes.
The top three ailments that were most frequently addressed using the plant includes chronic pain, anxiety and depression. Prescription opioids topped the list at 35.8 percent, while anxiolytics/benzodiazepines and antidepressants accounted for 13.6 percent and 12.7 percent, respectively. Other substitutions that were made by positive respondents include muscle relaxants, anticonvulsants, sedatives and non-opioid based analgesics (NSAIDs).
Although not statistically significant, the majority of affirmative respondents live in states where medical cannabis is legal (47 percent, compared to 44 percent). Based on this comparison, it would be possible to conclude that the need for alternatives to prescription medication in states where the plant is widely prohibited is critical.
Focusing on gender-based characteristics, women were more likely to report such activities; despite more males participating in the study. The results get really interesting when the positive batch is divided into their respective age groups. Survey participants between 22-35 and 36-50 accounted for the majority of affirmative answers.
According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), the opioid epidemic is making its way to younger age groups, as around 2.3 million Americans 12 years of age or older reported a substance disorder related to prescription pain medication in 2015.
“These data contribute to a growing body of literature suggesting cannabis, legal or otherwise, is being used as a substitute for prescription drugs, particularly prescription pain relievers,” concluded the authors.
In a separate study published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Review, researchers from the Centre for Addictions Research of British Columbia were able to arrive at similar conclusions. Around 80.3 percent of participants reported substituting pharmaceutical medication for cannabis. In the arena of prescription medication, popular substitutions include Vicodin, Xanax, Ambien and Zoloft.