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Patients Opting for Marijuana Over Opioids in Some States

In a true case of "pick your poison," patients who live in states where medicinal marijuana is legal are choosing cannabis over opioids in order to treat their pain, anxiety, and depression. While this may sound good at first because of our nation's current opioid crisis, this may be a case of swapping one problem for another.

About 3,000 people were surveyed for a recent study published by the Journal of Pain Research. Of these people, nearly 50 percent of those who had used marijuana at least once in the 90 days before the study was conducted had reportedly used it as a substitute for prescription drugs in order to treat their pain, anxiety, and depression. Participants were selected from all over the country, as well as a few from Canada and Europe. About 30 percent of these participants also admitted to using an opiate at some point during the prior six months.

These findings illustrate what is becoming the latest trend in the medical field, which is that the number of people who are substituting marijuana for their prescription medications is steadily growing – perhaps due to fears and/or concerns over the country's current opioid epidemic. And not only have these folks tried marijuana as a substitute, but they overwhelmingly prefer it. They believe it works just as well as prescription drugs and that it has fewer side effects.

Amanda Reiman of the University of California, Berkeley, and one of the authors of the study, believes that this data furthers the country's need to analyze marijuana as a "viable substitute for pain treatment." Alternatives to opioids are needed right now more than ever. It is estimated that over 90 people die every day from opioids, and over 33,000 Americans died from opioid-related overdoses in 2015.

One thing marijuana does have in the bag over opioids is that it has never caused a fatal overdose, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. However, there is not enough evidence out there yet to prove that chronic marijuana use does not come with its own set of negative consequences, such as an increased risk of developing problems like lung diseases, psychoses, and even an increased risk of suffering a heart attack. Marijuana may also be responsible for low birth weights in the babies of mothers who are long-term users of the drug.

Of the 840 people who had used opioids over the prior six months, 92 percent of them admittedly preferred cannabis over opioids as a treatment option for their conditions. 93 percent of them agreed that if both cannabis and opioids were made readily available to them at the same time, they would be more likely to choose the cannabis. 71 percent of them also stated that cannabis was just as effective at relieving their pain as opioids were.

What is most telling, and perhaps most important, is that 97 percent of those who had used opioids in the recent past agreed that they would cut down on their use of opioids if cannabis were made more readily available to them.