Could Medical Marijuana Replace Your Prescription Drugs? This question comes up a lot during my consultations.
I have patients coming in telling me that the prescription drugs that they’re taking aren’t working. They’re getting side effects from the prescription drugs. They’re concerned about getting addicted to the prescription drugs they’re on.
Before I get started with an answer, please be sure to stay tuned til the very end. There’s some very important information I want to make sure you hear.
So to answer this question, let’s dive into what the research says. I came across a couple studies that overall basically showed that medical marijuana could in fact substitute in for prescription drugs.
- A study done in 2012 in Canada showed that 67.8% of the participants used cannabis as a substitute for prescription drugs. Their main reasons being that they experienced less withdrawal (67.7%), fewer side-effects (60.4%), and better symptom management.
- A 2009 study of 350 medical cannabis patients in California showed that 66% of the patients used cannabis as a substitute for prescription drugs.Again, the most common reasons for the substitution with cannabis were that patients experienced fewer adverse side effects and better symptom management.
- The results of one particular study really astounded me. So this particular study looked into how medical marijuana laws impacted the number of medications that were prescribed. And, these were prescriptions paid for through Medicare Part D between 2010 and 2013.
- In the end, they found that $165.2 million worth of fewer prescriptions were written in 2013. These were prescriptions for anxiety, depression, pain, nausea, psychosis, seizures, sleep disorders and spasticity – conditions approved for the use of medical marijuana per various state laws.
- Bear in mind that these savings account for only the 17 states and the District of Columbia that had implemented medical marijuana laws by 2013. The researchers forecasted that if all the states had implemented medical marijuana laws by 2013, a half-a-billion dollars worth ($468.1 million) of fewer medications would’ve been prescribed. So, we’re talking about .5% of the total Medicare Part D spending in 2013. Half-a-billion dollars is a mighty chunk of change.
Overall, the research does show that patients do find that cannabis is an effective and potentially safer adjunct or alternative to the prescription medications they’re taking.
So, now, compared to the research, what have I seen clinically? Generally, I see 1 of 3 scenarios.
- In some cases, patients are able to completely replace the use of prescription drugs with medical marijuana and sufficiently manage or eliminate their symptoms.
- In other cases, patients have to use the medical marijuana along with their prescription medications. Now, sometimes in these cases, patients are able to reduce the dosages or the number of the prescription medications they’re using.
- Then, there are cases in which the medical marijuana is not an effective treatment compared to prescription drugs. The prescription drugs do a much better job of managing or eliminating symptoms.
Here’s the important point I want to make though.
Say you’re someone who lives in a state where marijuana is medically or recreationally legal or say even you’ve obtained marijuana through illegal means. You then decide to up and just stop your prescription medications cold-turkey.
It’s a very dangerous move to make. Why?
- Stopping some medications cold-turkey could potentially lead to symptoms of withdrawal. In the worse case scenario, the withdrawal symptoms could include suicidal or homicidal thoughts or the withdrawal symptoms could even lead to death.
- In other situations, the medical marijuana alone isn’t enough to eliminate or reduce your symptoms. You do still have to continue using your prescription medications to help manage your symptoms. Deciding to stop taking your prescription medications could put you at risk of having the symptoms again or even making the symptoms worse.
- An example of such symptom would be seizures. For the vast majority of patients who have seizures medical marijuana alone is not enough. Many of these patients do have to continue to use their prescriptions medications to to either prevent, reduce, or stop their seizures. Now, the way in which medical marijuana helps is that it helps these patients to reduce the number prescription medications they’re taking and/or to reduce the dosages of the prescription medications they’re taking.
So, I generally tell my patients to seek the advice of the doctor that actually prescribed the medications to further discuss ifthey should reduce or eliminate the use of your prescription medications. Should the prescribing doctor decide it’s ok to reduce or eliminate the use of the prescription medications, then it’s important to get further instructions on how to eliminate or reduce the use of these prescription medications.
This is some really important information that I knew absolutely had to share with you. So, I truly do hope that you found it very helpful.
- Cannabis as a substitute for alcohol and other drugs: A dispensary-based survey of substitution effect in Canadian medical cannabis patients
- Cannabis as a substitute for alcohol and other drugs
- Medical Marijuana Laws Reduce Prescription Medication Use In Medicare Part D