Pain Patients Choose Marijuana Over Opioids in New Study

By Paul Gaita 03/03/17

Some of the study's participants felt that cannabis was a safer alternative to prescription medications.

marijuana and prescription pills.

Given the choice to treat their chronic pain or mental health issues with prescription drugs or medical cannabis, a new study shows that many patients will choose cannabis.

The study, published in the International Journal of Drug Policy, was a combined research effort between Associate Professor Zach Walsh of the University of British Columbia, and Philippe Lucas, a graduate fellow at the Centre for Addictions Research of British Columbia. Lucas is also vice president of Patient Research and Access at Tilray, a federally authorized medical cannabis production and research company—one of the first to track medical cannabis use under Canada's new system of licensed providers—which funded the study.

"All participants had physician authorization to access cannabis in addition to their prescription medicines," said Walsh.

More than 250 patients registered with Tilray to use prescribed medical cannabis for issues involving chronic pain, mental health or gastrointestinal problems took part in an online survey regarding treatment for their health problems.

The researchers found that 63% of respondents reported using cannabis to treat their conditions instead of prescriptions drugs including opioids, sedatives like benzodiazepines and anti-depressants.

When asked why they chose cannabis over the prescription drugs, respondents cited fewer side effects, better symptom management and an overall feeling that cannabis was a safer alternative to prescription medication, according to UPI.

Walsh noted that the findings are just the beginning of their investigation into the effectiveness of cannabis for pain relief, and said further research must be conducted to determine just how well cannabis works when compared to prescription medication. "Additionally, long-term research into the potential impact of the cannabis substitution on the quality of patients' lives is ongoing," he noted.

The Canadian study is the latest in a series of similar investigations that suggest that cannabis may be a more feasible option for chronic pain sufferers than opioid medication.

A study from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor in 2016 noted that patients with legal access to medical cannabis reported fewer side effects and an increased quality of life, as well as decreased opioid use, when compared with using opioids for treatment. These findings were echoed by a slew of similar reports, all noting improved pain relief and quality of life when medical cannabis was chosen over prescription medication.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.