Overdoses due to prescription drugs is the top leading cause of accidental deaths in America. Over the years, prescription drugs, especially opioids have been used, overused, and abused. Unfortunately, it has moved from a crisis to a full-blown nationwide epidemic.
Although certain U.S. states have taken a stricter approach regarding the prescribing and re-filling of opioid orders, the consumption of these addictive and harmful painkillers continues. However, as more states, regions, and countries legalize cannabis, numerous cannabis consumers are choosing to transition away from pharmaceutical medications including opioids and move towards cannabis instead. Why is this the case though, how many people are really making this switch, and what impact have legal cannabis programs had on the consumption of opioid painkillers?
Increasing Number of Legal Cannabis Programs & Cannabis Consumption Over Opioids
Despite the accumulation of opioid overdoses over the years, on the bright side, various states have moved forward with cannabis legalization measures. By now, more than half of America’s fifty states have legalized cannabis to some degree. Whereas, America’s northern neighbor, Canada, has already federally legalized the plant. As a result, many people who have had the option to use opioids as their painkiller of choice also have the option to purchase and consume cannabis products.
In recent years, certain states that have medical and/or recreational cannabis programs in place have experienced decreases in the number of opioid overdoses. Specifically, one study found that U.S. states with operating medical cannabis programs had much lower state-wide opioid overdose mortality rates. Then, another study discovered that the incorporation of effective medical cannabis programs resulted in a decrease of 1,826 daily doses for opioid pain alleviation filled per doctor each year. How many people are actually taking advantage of consuming a natural medicine like cannabis as opposed to opioids though?
Research Findings that Support the Consumption of Cannabis Rather Than Pharma Meds
To learn more about the link between substituting pharmaceutical medications like opioids with cannabis and cannabinoids like Cannabidiol (CBD), survey data was collected from 271 individuals who were enrolled in Canada’s MMPR program.
Specifically, the 271 participants were patients who purchase medical cannabis from Privateer Holding’s owned-Tilray. About 63 percent of patients mentioned that they consume cannabis in place of traditional pharmaceutical medications. Then, around 30 percent of participants replaced opioids with cannabis, 16 percent replaced benzos with cannabis, and 12 percent replaced antidepressants with cannabis.
Why is this though? Most participants chose the more natural route because cannabis delivers less negative side effects and because it’s safer as compared to many pharma meds. However, some participants picked cannabis because it was more effective in treating their primary symptoms. Overall, though, the majority of participants expressed that cannabis is an effective treatment method for different medical conditions, and pain and mental health struggles were at the top of the list as reasons for consuming cannabis.
Besides pharmaceutical medications, numerous participants chose to use cannabis over other commonly-consumed substances like tobacco, alcohol, and other illicit drugs. In particular, 25 percent of participants chose cannabis over alcohol, 12 percent replaced cigarettes/tobacco products with cannabis, and three percent replaced illicit drugs with cannabis.
Additional Noteworthy Research Findings
In addition, not only are the operation of numerous medical and recreational cannabis programs beneficial and useful to those participating in them, but the existence of such programs has helped people transition away from addictive opioids. Aside from the research findings mentioned above, a 2019 study was conducted recently and published in the Harm Reduction Journal, which focused on surveying 2,000 adult Canadian medical cannabis patients who were registered with Tilray.
It was discovered that 70 percent of Canadian participants consumed cannabis as a substitute medicine for different prescription drugs. In particular, 59 percent of participants who consumed cannabis as an opioid replacement medicine reported complete opioid termination. Whereas, roughly 20 percent of cannabis consumers expressed that they decreased their standard opioid usage by at least 75 percent.
When the Canadian participants were asked why they switched to consuming cannabis rather than pharma meds, their main reasons consisted of cannabis’s safety profile, the plant’s few adverse side effects, and the efficacy of cannabis for symptom management purposes.
Additionally, the Canadian cannabis study’s researchers released the following statement about the reported findings:
“The findings provide a granular view of patient patterns of medical cannabis use, and the subsequent self-reported impacts on the use of opioids, alcohol, and other substances adding to a growing body of academic research suggesting that increased regulated access to medical and recreational cannabis can result in a reduction in the use of and subsequent harms associated with opioids, alcohol, tobacco, and other substances.”
Let’s rewind to 2016 when it was found that 80 percent of medical cannabis users reported substituting cannabis in place of prescribed medications, especially patients with pain-related conditions.
Now, fast forward to this year when interesting findings were released in BDS Analytics’ latest consumer surveys report. In the report, it was mentioned that opioid drug usage declined up to 30 percent in states with functioning medical cannabis programs.
Plethora of Cannabis’s Medicinal and Therapeutic Benefits
Although opioid painkillers are often prescribed to this day, cannabis and various cannabinoids can naturally combat and relieve pain and many other symptoms without delivering significantly negative side effects.
Some benefits of cannabis and the widely consumed cannabinoid, CBD include but aren’t limited to the following: analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anti-spasm, anti-epileptic, anti-anxiety, anti-depressant, antioxidant, anti-tumoral, and neuroprotective benefits.
On a similar note, the following statement was released about cannabis’s benefits over those of opioids: “Cannabis can be an effective treatment for pain, greatly reduces the chance of dependence, and eliminates the risk of fatal overdose compared to opioid-based medications. Medical cannabis patients report that cannabis is just as effective, if not more, than opioid-based medications for pain.”
If you’re given the option to consume pharmaceutical medications like addictive opioid painkillers or a natural alternative form of medicine like cannabis and/or CBD, which one would you choose and why? Let us know in the comments below!