We’ve all heard anecdotes about people using medical cannabis to treat a wide range of medical conditions. With legalization efforts sweeping the country in recent years, these anecdotal observations are now backed up with hard data. A recent research project from the University of Michigan surveyed over 400 adult cannabis users, and their findings give even more credibility to the argument for the use of medical cannabis as a prescription drug alternative.
Of those surveyed, over 40 percent said that they had stopped using a prescription medication since trying medical cannabis, while a further 38 percent said that they had reduced their use of such drugs in favor medical cannabis. Participants said they found medical cannabis safer, more effective, more affordable, and more easily accessible. They also claimed to experience fewer side effects than with prescription medications.
The research comes at a time when the use of medical cannabis as a replacement for pain medications is growing rapidly. Due to the nationwide opioid epidemic, which has become a top public health priority for the US government, many people have supported this move. However, others are concerned about the safety of medical cannabis use, and remain skeptical about its ability to replace traditional painkillers.
Many conventional pain medications have been around for decades. As a result, they’ve been the subject of intense scientific study, though the objectivity of these studies can be debated. Still, because these medications are prescribed by doctors, many people feel confident about their safety and efficacy.
However, many of these drugs also have well-documented side effects. The addictive nature of opioids in particular has become well known in recent years. The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that more than 33,000 US citizens died as a direct result of opioid overuse in 2015.
The pros of medical cannabis use for pain relief are not as well documented, but the body of scientific evidence which suggests that it is both safe and effective is growing. Researchers have discovered that medical cannabis supports the endocannabinoid system, which helps regulates the body’s sensations of pain (among other things). Studies have shown that cannabis can be effective on many forms of pain, ranging from chronic conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis to everyday aches and pains.
As promising as this may be, there remains at least one major con to using medical cannabis; its availability. Although more and more states are legalizing its prescription and use for pain, it remains heavily restricted at the federal level. This hampers research considerably, and means that not everyone has access to it.
An increasingly large and vocal contingent of people believe that medical cannabis will become a common and popular pain medication in the years to come, and ongoing research efforts seem to support this idea. However, many people are still deeply skeptical of medical cannabis and its derivatives, such as CBD oil. This isn’t surprising given the decades of anti-cannabis messaging from governments and powerful institutions.
Still, as communities grapple with the severity of the opioid crisis, it seems likely that the search for effective, non-addictive pain remedies will become more urgent and important. Medical cannabis has already shown substantial promise as an alternative to prescription drugs, and the pace of research is rapidly accelerating. It’s still too early to be certain if medical cannabis could replace opioids (or even ibuprofen) entirely, but the early results are intriguing.