Patients with legal access to medical marijuana often reduce their use of conventional pharmaceuticals, according to a demographic review of patient characteristics published online in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs.
Investigators surveyed responses from 367 state-qualified patients recruited from four medical cannabis dispensaries located throughout Arizona. The majority of respondents in the study were white males, and most patients (61 percent) reported consuming cannabis daily. The average age of respondents was 46 years old.
Patients reported using medical cannabis to treat a variety of conditions. The most commonly reported conditions were chronic pain, muscle spasms, nausea, anxiety, arthritis, depression, headaches, insomnia and stress. Patients also reported that cannabis was highly effective for treating the symptoms of many of these conditions—a finding that is consistent with prior studies of medical marijuana patients.
Over 90 percent of patients who reported consuming cannabis to mitigate nausea (95 percent), headache (94 percent), muscle spasms (91 percent) and chronic pain (90 percent) also reported that they were able to reduce their use of prescription medications. Over 80 percent of those with anxiety (86 percent), insomnia (82 percent) and arthritis (81 percent) acknowledged using pharmaceutical drugs less frequently after qualifying for cannabis therapy.
Previously published data from medical marijuana patients in other regions, including California, Canada and Rhode Island, have reported a similar substitution effect, particularly among patients taking prescription opioids.
A study published in July by the National Bureau of Economic Research, a non-partisan think-tank, reported, "[S]tates permitting medical marijuana dispensaries experience a relative decrease in both opioid addictions and opioid overdose deaths compared to states that do not.”
Data published in 2014 in the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine reported that the enactment of statewide medicinal marijuana laws is associated with significantly lower state-level opioid overdose mortality rates.
"States with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8 percent lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate compared with states without medical cannabis laws," the study concluded.
(Photo Courtesy of the Chicago Tribune)