Patients Report Choosing Marijuana Over Opioids for Pain: Study

Article by Mike Hager, The Globe and Mail

More than half the medical-marijuana patients in a new study said they use cannabis to help them get off heavier prescription drugs, with the largest percentage saying pot acts as a substitute painkiller for opioids.

More than half the medical-marijuana patients in a new study said they use cannabis to help them get off heavier prescription drugs, with the largest percentage saying pot acts as a substitute painkiller for opioids.

The new research, published in the peer-reviewed International Journal of Drug Policy but funded by a licensed cannabis grower Tilray, adds to a small body of science that suggests patients are effectively using marijuana to replace opioids, a class of legal and illicit painkillers that has led to an ongoing crisis that killed hundreds of Canadians last year.

The study of 271 Tilray patients found 53 per cent were using the drug for pain, with the next most common reason being the treatment of mental-health issues, such as eating disorders or post-traumatic stress disorder, at 15 per cent. Of those who claimed they had dropped pharmaceutical drugs for cannabis, 32 per cent switched from opioids; 16 per cent from benzodiazepines and 12 per cent from anti-depressants.

Co-author Zach Walsh, a clinical psychologist and cannabis researcher at the University of British Columbia, said the new paper proves further studies are needed to investigate how well cannabis stacks up against opioids in reducing pain.

“It doesn’t surprise me, given our increasing recognition of some of the problems with opioids,” Dr. Walsh said of the results from the 107-question online survey that was conducted last summer. “Now the truth is coming out and people are looking for other alternatives.”

The majority of patients who said they had replaced opioids or tranquillizers said the main reason for their switch was because cannabis had less problematic side effects, Dr. Walsh said.

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