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Study Shows Adults Use Cannabis as a Substitute for Opioids and Other Prescription Drugs

Cannabis as a Substitute

A recent study has found that adults who have access to legal cannabis not only use it to reduce pain and improve sleeping patterns, but they often use it as an alternative for prescription medication, including opioids. 

According to the researchers from the University of Miami and Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, medical cannabis patients consistently report using cannabis as a substitute for prescription medications; but the information regarding the individuals accessing cannabis through adult use markets remains limited. 

A research conducted on 1,000 adult-use only customers at two different retail cannabis stores in Colorado from August 2016 to October 2016 found that 65% of adult-use customers reported using cannabis for treating their pain, and 74% reported using it to get sleep. The findings were published in the study “Use of Cannabis to Relieve Pain and Promote Sleep by Customers at an Adult Use Dispensary.” 


For those who used cannabis for relieving their pain, 80% reported that it was very or extremely effective and helpful in reducing the intensity of their pain. Among the adult-use customers who used cannabis as a replacement for over-the-counter pain medicines, 82% reported decreasing or stopping the use of prescription medications in favour of cannabis, while 88% of those who used it as an alternative for opiods reported the same. 


In the group of adult-use customers who preferred cannabis as a sleep aid, 84% found it to be extremely helpful. About 87% of these people had been using either prescription drugs or over-the-counter medications for improving their sleeping patterns earlier, reduced or stopped taking these medications in favour of cannabis. 

Of the 1,000 adults included in the study, 90% were under the age of 50 with 42% of women and 66% of white. The study concluded that people use cannabis mostly for pain relief and sleep promotion. The majority of respondents who reported a significant improvement in their health after using cannabis also reported reducing or stopping their prescription with over-the-counter analgesics and sleep aids. 


While adult-use laws are usually known as “recreational,” implying that cannabis obtained through adult-use system is only taken for pleasure or experience mind soothing sensations, the report claims that many customers use cannabis for treating a wide range of ailments that are not as effectively or quickly relieved by over-the-counter medications. 

In response to the study’s findings, the deputy director of NORML, Paul Armentano said in a press release that the use of cannabis by qualified patients is linked with the reduction, or even the elimination, of certain other prescription medicines- especially opioids- over time. These studies speak not only to the therapeutic efficacy of cannabis as a substitute analgesic option but also to its potential role as a harm reduction agent. 

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He further added that if the United States wants to really make an impact in its opioid crisis, it should reconsider the federal cannabis legalization. As of now the federal government only allows hemp derived cannabinoid with a maximum 0.3% THC per unit. Cannabinoid or CBD is a compound found in hemp plant, a cannabis genus plant, which has non-psychoactive and anti-inflammatory properties. 


CBD is widely popular to treat swelling, pain, inflammation, irritation, anxiety, sleep disorders, depression, insomnia and other health issues. It is also believed to cure severe ailments such as cancer, Alzheimer’s and epilepsy. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration permits only one cannabis based medication, Epidiolex which is used to treat two rare and severe forms of epilepsy. 


Apart from this, the FDA is yet to set regulatory framework around other CBD based products. It held a public meeting on May 31 with stakeholders, consumers, retailers, business leaders and law officials to discuss about the effects and regulations surrounding CBD. The agency has not yet declared any formal statement regarding the framework or the future of CBD based products. 


With this, the consumer market in the U.S. lies in a grey area with consumers buying CBD infused products without any proper knowledge about the concentration, credibility of the brand or proper testing of these products. Retailers and cannabis companies are selling gamut of CBD infused products on the shelves of the market, including skin care products and food supplements. Right from CBD based topicals, creams, ointments, oils, face masks, lotions to CBD based gummy bears, chocolates, pizza, burgers, coffee, mocktails and beer, the U.S. market seems to be on the bandwagon of CBD. While CBD is found to be good for health, there is a lot of research and testing that still needs to be done in order to ensure that it does not pose any long term side effects or deteriorating impact on the overall life span of the user. 

Ivan writes about Cannabis at The Cannabis Radar. He has a degree in Nutrition Sciences from University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Centre. He likes to spend his spare time reading to his daughter or spending time with his wife.

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