Legal Access to Cannabis May Mean Less Use of Schedule II-V Drugs
In recent years, medical cannabis has become legal in many states and the District of Columbia, and both practitioners and patients are reporting health benefits as well as comfort care benefits from using controlled forms and dosages of the substance. Now a new study in the January issue of JAMDA suggests that legal access to cannabis may reduce the use of multiple classes of dangerous prescription medications in certain patient populations.
In “Effects of Legal Access to Cannabis on Scheduled II-V Drug Prescriptions,” researchers reviewed the records of 83 chronic pain patients enrolled in the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Program (MCP) and compared them to 42 non-enrolled patients over a 24-month period using a Prescription Monitoring Program. They found that enrollment in the MCP was associated with significant reductions in Schedule II-V prescription drug use and the associated use of conventional pharmacies and prescribers.
While co-prescribing of scheduled drugs, such as opioids, benzodiazepines, and muscle relaxants, is discouraged because of possible dangerous side effects and interactions, it is still prevalent in modern medical practice, the authors observe. They suggest, “With the results showing a reduction across classes of drugs and the number of prescribing providers, it may be that cannabis is effective at treating multiple conditions currently treated by separate medications.” Additionally, they note that cannabis alone may be able to address comorbid health conditions, such as chronic pain, that are commonly treated with multiple scheduled prescription drugs.
The authors point to the relative safety and efficacy of cannabis in comparison to that of scheduled medications. They say, “The vast majority of documented side effects of cannabis use reported by patients appear to be relatively non-serious, and cannabis is not associated with an increased risk of mortality in people with or without comorbid opioid, alcohol, or cocaine use disorders.”
The study was conducted by researchers in the Department of Economics, Department of Psychology, and Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, and at the Industrial Rehabilitation Clinics in Albuquerque.