Medical Cannabis Decreases Use of Pharmaceutical Agents for Pain, Anxiety and Sleep


A prior epidemiological study identified a reduction in opioid overdose deaths in US states that legalized medical cannabis (MC). One theory to explain this phenomenon is a potential substitution effect of MC for opioids. This study evaluated whether this substitution effect of MC for opioids also applies to other psychoactive medications. New England dispensary members ( n = 1,513) completed an online survey about their medical history and MC experiences. Among respondents that regularly used opioids, over three-quarters (76.7%) indicated that they reduced their use since they started MC. This was significantly ( p < 0.0001) greater than the patients that reduced their use of antidepressants (37.6%) or alcohol (42.0%). Approximately two-thirds of patients decreased their use of anti-anxiety (71.8%), migraine (66.7%), and sleep (65.2%) medications following MC which significantly ( p < 0.0001) exceeded the reduction in antidepressants or alcohol use. The patient’s spouse, family, and other friends were more likely to know about their MC use than was their primary care provider. In conclusion, a majority of patients reported using less opioids as well as fewer medications to treat anxiety, migraines, and sleep after initiating MC. A smaller portion used less antidepressants or alcohol. Additional research is needed to corroborate these self-reported, retrospective, cross-sectional findings using other data sources.

Clinical Trials, Studies and Publications (click to access):

Substitution of medical cannabis for pharmaceutical agents for pain, anxiety, and sleep.

Authors: BJ Piper, RM DeKeuster, ML Beals, CM Cobb, CA Burchman, L Perkinson, ST Lynn, SD Nichols, AT Abess

J Psycopharmacology 2017 Mar 1 (Epub ahead of print)

Use of Medical Cannabis as a Substitute for Prescription Drugs in Canada

271 patients, enrolled  with the Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations in Canada responded to a survey to evaluate the number of patients who substituted medical cannabis (MC) for prescription drugs.  Results are shown in the table below. Medical cannabis patients in Canada are decreasing the use of several classes of proscription drugs by substituting at least part of their drug intake with medical cannabis.

63% Substitute for all Rx drugs
30% Substitute for opioids
16% Substitute for benzodiazepines
12% Substitute for anti-depressants
25% Substitute for alcohol
12% Substitute for cigarettes and tobacco
3% Substitute for illicit drugs

Clinical Trials, Studies and Publications (click to access):

Medical Cannabis Access, Use and Substitution for Prescription Opioids and other Substances: A Survey of Authorized Medical Cannabis Patients.

Authors : P Lucas and Z Walsh

Int J Drug Policy (2017) 42:30-35