40% of American patients ditch other pharmaceutical prescription drugs for medical cannabis

  • Over 2.1 million Americans have legal medical cannabis prescriptions
  • A new University of Michigan study found that the 44% of respondent quit another drug altogether for cannabis
  • 38% reduced the amount of a different drug they were taking
  • Nearly one-third of medical cannabis patients don’t tell their doctor of their cannabis use

Yet another study has found significant evidence that cannabis can be used as an “exit drug” for patients addicted to prescription medications.

The study found that 44% of patients who use medical cannabis are able to quit taking at least one pharmaceutical prescription after receiving their medical marijuana prescription.

Over half of American states now have legal access to medical cannabis, with medical marijuana being legal in 34 States.

In America, cannabis has been approved to treat conditions such as pain management, nausea related to chemotherapy and even mental illnesses, such as depression.

For many conditions, however, doctors intend cannabis to be used a complement to other medications, not a replacement.

While doctors may intend for cannabis to only be a replacement, its superior effectiveness over pharmaceuticals is leading many patients to ditch their other prescriptions altogether.

The University of Michigan found in a survey that patients are often ditching their ‘primary’ prescriptions after they have been prescribed medical cannabis, with many refraining from telling their doctors about their choice.

It’s estimated that 2.1 million Americans now have official medical cannabis prescriptions (although the unofficial number may be far higher, with patients self-treating in legal States, or illegally self-treating in States where medical marijuana remains illegal).

Patients using medical cannabis are not always acquiring their prescription from their primary care provider. According to the study, nearly a third of patients are hiding their use from their primary care doctors entirely.

One reason for this may be that medical cannabis users are concerned that they may receive negative judgement from their doctors for their use of cannabis over opioid-based pharmaceuticals.

Out of 450 administered surveys, 392 respondents provided usable responses, with the majority answering that they had used marijuana recreationally in the past, suggesting a shift away from the Reefer Madness era which consumed the US from the 1950s.

While there has been a shift away from an overall negative perception of cannabis, a negative stigma remains on the Federal level.

Dr Daniel Kruger, the lead author of the study and a public health professor at the University of Michigan explained:

“Public health is still operating in the era of prohibition’ by leaving marijuana a Schedule 1 drug.

“It still treats cannabis use like ‘an abstinence-based program, like sex, and we know that doesn’t work.

“It’s not wild to say “here’s this plant that people have used medicinally for 5,000 years” … why are we not taking it seriously?’

Patient trust in cannabis is far higher than in pharmaceutical prescriptions.

It’s not wild to say “here’s this plant that people have used medicinally for 5,000 years” … why are we not taking it seriously?
– Dr Daniel Kruger, the lead author of the study

Every single respondent to the survey showed a preference for medical cannabis over pharmaceuticals, especially opioid-based ones, mainly due to its lack of negative side-effects and its non-toxic status (it’s impossible to overdose on cannabis).

According to the survey, 38% of medical cannabis patients were able to cut back on their use of another prescription drug after being prescribed medical marijuana, with 42% completely quitting their pharmaceuticals.

America is currently undergoing a severe Opioid Crisis.

Medical cannabis may be the only answer which can help end the suffering of millions addicted to dangerous, life-threatening opioid-based medications.

For example, in Colorado, where cannabis is legally available both medicinally and recreationally, opioid deaths have decreased by 6%.

According to Dr Kruger:

“People are not only self-medicating but they’re self un-medicating.”

Patient self-determination, i.e. self-medicating with cannabis without the guidance or knowledge of a doctor, could pose ‘serious dangers’ according to Dr Kruger:

“My concern is that we’re back to the mid-19th Century with people running around selling “cure-alls,” these tinctures that often have high potency.

“But, we don’t have the evidence-based science that is required for a standard pharmaceutical to see what this is effective at treating.”

While cannabis was moved to a Schedule 2 status in the UK last November, the herbal plant remains a Schedule 1 drug in the US, meaning there is a limit on what research scientists can legally conduct, with funding for cannabis research often being impossible.

Dr Kruger also discussed the limits on research, and his concerns over a lack of standardisation for which cannabinoids, and their ratios, in cannabinoid-based medications:

“It’s so illegal at the federal level that basically researchers still have one hand tied behind their backs and a giant boxing glove on the other.

“It’s like if a physician handed you a bag of pills of all different colours, shapes with maybe some numbers on them and they said ‘here, take them until you feel better.’

“That’s effectively the state we’re in.”

The University of Michigan’s study limited its scope for conditions which can be treated with both cannabis and traditional, pharmaceutical medications, in order to create a genuine comparison.

It’s worth noting, however, that some patients incorrectly believe that cannabis can treat conditions like cancer itself – not just side effects of chemotherapy, like nausea.

The study also found that the majority of respondents viewed medical cannabis as a more cost-effective treatment than its pharmaceutical counterpart.

Price comparison, however, was not the main reason patients were ditching their pharmaceuticals.

Respondents preferred cannabis due to other advantages, such as its minimal side-effects.

Dr Kruger believes that this new evidence should be used to push forward with legalising cannabis for medical consumption on a Federal level, in order to maximise safety for patients who are inevitably going to use medical cannabis:

“The science of the practice has not kept pace with the very rapid legal changes. All policy should be driven by science.

“There’s a lack of integration of these systems’ of the medical cannabis industry, the law, clinicians and public health policy.

“And integration of these systems is what we’re pushing for.”