Cannabis A Preferred Substitute for Prescription Drugs to Treat Chronic Pain


More than half of survey respondents substituted cannabis for their prescribed medication.

Individuals treated for chronic pain or mental illness preferred the use of cannabis compared with their prescribed opioid medication, according to a new study.

Included in the study were 271 participants registered to purchase cannabis from Tilray—–a federally authorized licensed producer in Canada. They were asked to complete an online survey, consisting of 107 questions regarding demographics, patterns of use, and cannabis substitution effect.

The participants were treated for conditions including chronic pain, mental health, and gastrointestinal issues.

“This study is one of the first to track medical cannabis use under the new system of licensed producers, meaning that all participants had physician authorization to access cannabis in addition to their prescription medicines,” said co-author Zach Walsh.

In 2014, Health Canada replaced the Marihuana for Medical Access Regulations (MMAR) with the Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR). One of the biggest changes in the new program was moving from a single licensed producer of cannabis to multiple licensed producers. This is the first comprehensive survey of patients enrolled in the MMPR, the authors wrote.

The results of thestudypublished in theInternational Journal of Drug Policy,found that 63% of respondents reported the use of cannabis as a substitute of their prescription drugs, pharmaceutical opioids (30%), benzodiazepines (16%), and antidepressants (12%).

Additionally, investigators found that 25% of patients substituted cannabis for alcohol, 12% for cigarettes or other tobacco products, and 3% for illicit drugs.

Forty-two percent of patients reported accessing cannabis from illegal or unregulated sources in addition to access via license producers. More than half of individuals were charged to receive a medical recommendation to use cannabis, with nearly 25% paying $300 or more.

Lead author Philippe Lucas, vice president of patient research and access at Tilray, said the primary reasons that patients switch from their prescription medications to cannabis was due to reduced adverse events, improved symptom management, and the personal belief that cannabis is safer than prescription drugs.

In 2001, Canada became one of the first nations to develop a program that allowed access to medicinal cannabis. To-date, more than 30 federally authorized licensed producers of cannabis have provided their product to more than 65,000 patients.

“The finding that patients report its use as a substitute for prescriptiondrugssupports prior research on medical cannabis users; however, this study is the first to specify the classes of prescription drugs for which cannabis it is used as a substitute [sic], and to match this substitution to specific diagnostic categories,” the authors concluded. “The findings that some authorized patients purchase cannabis from unregulated sources and that a significant percentage of patients were charged for medical cannabis recommendations highlight ongoing policy challenges for this federal program.”

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