It’s been five years since Colorado took the unprecedented leap of legalizing recreational marijuana, and while the debate over the pros and cons of this pharmacological experiment are still being hotly debated, some of the facts are beginning to come out in the wash. Analyzing data collected from two cannabis retail stores in the Centennial State, researchers have discovered that the majority of customers use legal marijuana to treat pain and insomnia, and are even managing to cut back on their prescription medications as a result.
Published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, the study breaks down the results of a survey that was completed by 1,000 participants, 65 percent of whom reported using cannabis for pain relief while three-quarters said they used it to help with their sleeping problems.
Of those who got high to treat pain, 80 percent described marijuana as “very or extremely helpful”, and 88 percent of people who took opioid painkillers said they were able to reduce or stop their prescription meds as a direct result of their cannabis use.
Meanwhile, 87 percent of those who used over-the-counter sleeping pills, and 83 percent of people who took prescription sleeping pills, said that they too were able to cut back or halt the amount of medication they needed to get a good night’s sleep.
What’s particularly interesting about these findings is that none of those involved in the study had a medical marijuana script, meaning they were all bypassing doctors and basically self-prescribing. It goes without saying that this DIY approach to pharmaceuticals is highly risky, especially given that the harms associated with repeated cannabis use are not yet fully understood.
Yet at the same time, the US is currently in the midst of a killer opioid epidemic, and the study authors note that marijuana may provide an alternative to certain highly addictive prescription painkillers. Sleeping pills, meanwhile, often contain benzodiazepines such as diazepam, which can also be addictive, and it appears that many people are turning to cannabis in an attempt to avoid getting hooked on dangerous prescription drugs.
All in all, these results highlight the predicament facing both doctors and the general public in the face of the current uncertainty surrounding the effects of marijuana: many are desperate to stop taking painkillers and sleeping pills, and while cannabis may appear to be a potential solution, it also presents an array of unknown potential dangers.
These concerns are summed up by study author Gwen Wurm, who said in a statement that “until there is more research into which cannabis products work for which symptoms, patients will do their own 'trial and error' experiments, getting advice from friends, social media and dispensary employees” rather than actual doctors.