A new study suggests patients suffering from chronic pain and mental health conditions will choose marijuana over their addictive prescription drugs when given a choice by their doctor.
The study’s authors say a majority of patients observed chose marijuana due to reduced side effects and because it is far less addictive than their prescription medication. Patients also said they were better able to manage their symptoms by using weed. The study tracked 250 participants who were legally prescribed both marijuana and prescription medications including opioids, benzodiazepines like Xanax and anti-depressants, reports PsyPost.
Roughly 63 percent of the participants reported ditching their prescription pills for marijuana over the course of the study, conducted by researchers at the University of British Columbia and University of Victoria. Canada created a medical marijuana program in 2001, which currently serves roughly 65,000 patients.
Previous studies also suggest marijuana can serve as a viable alternative to prescription medications, however this is the first to track use through a legal medical program where the patients are under the supervision of a doctor. Researchers are hopeful this can aid those suffering from opioid addiction and reduce heroin use. (RELATED: How One Pain Pill Sparked A Three-Fold Increase In Heroin Deaths)
Opioid deaths contributed to the first drop in U.S. life expectancy since 1993 and eclipsed deaths from motor vehicle accidents in 2015. Medical experts place much of the blame on the over-prescribing of opioid painkillers. Many people who end up using heroin begin with a dependence on prescription medications and switch after their tolerance increases and the pills become too expensive.
States throughout the U.S. are currently pushing to expand medical marijuana programs to include opioid addiction as a qualifying condition. Officials fear these plans could be impacted by a federal crackdown on legal marijuana by the Trump administration.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer fielded questions on President Donald Trump’s stance on marijuana legalization during a press conference Thursday, saying the Department of Justice is likely going to increase enforcement efforts of federal law. Spicer also tied marijuana use to the opioid epidemic, claiming “encouraging people” to use marijuana would be irresponsible in light of the high rates of heroin and prescription painkiller addiction.
“Contrary to the ‘alternative facts’ deployed from the podium in the White House press briefing room, several studies clearly show that states that allow people to legally access marijuana are seeing reduced opioid problems,” Tom Angell, chairman of the Marijuana Majority, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Far from being a ‘gateway drug,’ marijuana is actually a relatively safe alternative to dangerous prescription painkillers.”
Medical marijuana is legal in 28 states and Washington, D.C., where it is also legal for recreational use. Voters in Maine, Nevada, California and Massachusetts all approved measures to legalize marijuana for recreational use on Election Day. Nearly 20 percent of Americans now have access to legal pot.
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