Study: People Prefer Medical Cannabis to Other Medications

Medical marijuana prescription bottlePeople taking psychoactive medications and drugs for conditions such as chronic pain tend to prefer medical cannabis to other drugs, including sedatives, opioids, and antidepressants, a study published in the International Journal of Drug Policy has found.

Many analysts have expressed concerns about the use of opioids to treat chronic pain. More than 183,000 people died of prescription opioid overdoses between 1999 and 2015 in the United States. Some research, such as a recent study that looked at states with medical cannabis laws, suggests access to medical marijuana could reduce opioid abuse.

Medical Cannabis: Alternative to Opioids and Other Drugs?

The study used survey data from 271 people registered to purchase medical cannabis. Participants answered 107 questions covering demographic data, use of cannabis, reliance on other drugs, and health history.

Survey respondents had been prescribed drugs for a range of reasons, including chronic pain, mental health conditions, and gastrointestinal issues. Overall, 63% reported using cannabis instead of prescription drugs. The most common drug class for which participants substituted cannabis was opioids, accounting for 30% of the total. Sixteen percent of participants used cannabis to replace benzodiazepines, and 12% used cannabis instead of antidepressants.

Cannabis was also a popular replacement for potentially addictive nonmedical drugs. Twenty-five percent of respondents used cannabis instead of drinking alcohol, 12% used it instead of cigarettes or tobacco, and 3% replaced illicit drugs with marijuana.

The study’s authors suggest side effects, concerns about addiction, and level of safety figure prominently among the decision to use cannabis instead of other drugs. Some medical cannabis users report cannabis works better than more traditional prescription drugs.

Barriers to Medical Marijuana Continue

The study found participants often faced barriers to accessing medical marijuana. More than half (55%) were charged for their cannabis prescription, with 25% paying more than $300 for the prescription. Some participants still purchased cannabis from unregulated sources despite having a prescription.


  1. Given the choice, patients will reach for cannabis over prescribed opioids. (2017, February 27). Retrieved from
  2. Lucas, P., & Walsh, Z. (2017). Medical cannabis access, use, and substitution for prescription opioids and other substances: A survey of authorized medical cannabis patients. International Journal of Drug Policy, 42, 30-35. doi:10.1016/j.drugpo.2017.01.011
  3. Prescription opioid overdose data. (2016, December 16). Retrieved from

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  • Leave a Comment
  • Trevor

    March 20th, 2017 at 11:24 AM

    yes please!

  • Mallory

    March 21st, 2017 at 7:38 AM

    Would they be quite as open to medical marijuana if they knew the terrible health implications? Of how this is a gateway drug and many people cite that their addictions started as a result of marijuana? I know that people have strong feelings for and against this and obviously I am against it. I just think that the last thing that we need right now is one more enticement to start abusing drugs.

  • Ben

    April 28th, 2017 at 4:06 AM

    People use Cannabis to withdraw from other drugs, not to take up others.

  • Jennifer

    September 4th, 2017 at 8:33 AM

    You’re entitled to your opinion. You need to educate yourself about medical marijuana. What are the terrible health implications that you’re implying in regards to cannabis? What about the terrible side effects from taking pharmaceuticals? Cannabis is a plant, a herb. Studies have shown the medical benefits from cannabis. Look at all the side effects from taking pharmaceuticals. Then having to take more pharmaceuticals for the side effects. You can use cannabis without the “high” feeling. Simply by increasing the CBD rather then the THC from the plant.

  • Michael A

    August 10th, 2019 at 9:06 PM

    72 yrs old & I used speed & heroin ’67-’69 before cigs or weed (33 yrs old) For me, cigs have the strongest grip!

  • Katejo

    March 11th, 2018 at 10:49 PM

    I can sympathize with this on both sides. As a teenager with an early diagnosis of bipolar 1 disorder I started using drugs very early. At 16 I had already worked my way up to cocaine. However now that I am 38 and a responsible person, I know that a person even a teenager doesn’t just do something. Not without thought, especially if their parent has talked to them about it. One thing I always knew growing up was if I did something wrong, it was my fault and my consequences to bear. That is how we were raised. I knew drugs were bad and did them anyway. Now having migraines, fibromyalgia and anxiety. Yes I would much rather have a natural plant than all the substances being thrown in my body with a thousand side effects.

  • Michelle

    September 11th, 2018 at 12:44 AM

    Actually the reality is “Alcohol” is the Gateway to drug use… it is the easiest to get because it’s “legal” and in the US those before the age of 21 have No Hard Obstacles getting a hold of it…Fake IDs…Adults who are willing to purchase it for them…and raiding Mom & Dads liquor cabinet! The high that occurs with alcohol leads to seeking drugs for more of a high or different highs. It’s not Marijuana…in fact most will choose to use marijuana vs drinking alcohol in states where it’s legal or those whom are able to get a hold of it illegally. It’s gives a high of silliness, happiness. Alcohol can affect many the same way but can also bring out violence in some people. It is a way more risky “high”…it is Truth that no one who smoked weed ever turned around and beat their family or shot someone! It doesn’t bring that out in people. And let’s just be honest Alcohol is a Drug. I’m not saying reinstate prohibition but I’m simply stating that it is a “mind altering substance”…People become addicted to it thus you have Alcoholism, AA and Rehabs…in my opinion it is worst than weed in he behavior it has the potential to bring out in people! My Problem with people saying Marijuana is thee gateway drug is that it is Not the Gateway drug- Alcohol Is It. Yet alcohol is legal??. There is a double standard here when the same people who drink to get high, lightheaded, happy, silly, uninhibited, more social, etc etc…BUT will then have the nerve to judge those who use weed to do the same. They are both drugs. And medical marijuana does help many people and this article is showing that they prefer it medically to psychiatric drugs, alcohol, etc…and for good reason not only is is natural but it makes people happy and harmless to themselves and others. I completely also support it becoming legalized recreationally and commend those states who have. Not only does it increase tax revenue but if alcohol is legal then so should be marijuana. And YES we will see that people will choose it over alcohol.. Alcohol is used mainly because it is’s the only legal recreational drug…so people have no choice but give them the choice and we will see alcohol sales go down or be right on par…Those who think marijuana is worst than alcohol obviously have never tried it…because that is ABSOLUTELY FALSE….think about what I have written as you sip your martini….

  • Michael A

    August 10th, 2019 at 9:14 PM

    Weed helps me get to sleep, but alcohol makes people stupid. Look at murder stats!

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