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Many People with Pain, Insomnia May Be Turning to Legal Cannabis

A new study finds that a large number of adults who buy legalized cannabis have been able to cut back or completely quit taking their pain and/or sleep prescription drugs.

The findings, published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, add weight to the theory that widening access to medical cannabis could reduce the use of prescription painkillers, allowing more people to manage and treat their pain without relying on opioid prescription drugs.

For the study, the researchers surveyed 1,000 people who purchased cannabis from two Colorado retail stores: 65% of the participants reported buying cannabis for pain and 74% for insomnia.

Among those taking cannabis for pain, 80% found it to be very or extremely helpful. In addition, this led to 82% of these individuals being able to reduce or stop taking over the counter pain medications, and 88% were able to stop taking opioid painkillers.

Among those taking cannabis for insomnia, 84% said it was a helpful sleep aid, and more than 83% of these said they had been able to reduce or stop taking over-the-counter or prescription sleep aids.

“Approximately 20% of American adults suffer from chronic pain, and one in three adults do not get enough sleep,” said Dr. Gwen Wurm, Assistant Professor of Clinical Pediatrics at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

Traditional over the counter medications and painkillers can help, but they often have serious side effects. For example, opioids depress the respiratory system which can be fatal in large doses.

“People develop tolerance to opioids, which means that they require higher doses to achieve the same effect,” said Dr. Julia Arnsten, Professor of Medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “This means that chronic pain patients often increase their dose of opioid medications over time, which in turn increases their risk of overdose.”

Sleeping pills can also lead to dependence as well as cause grogginess the next day, interfering with people’s work and social lives. As a consequence, some people are looking to cannabis to help with their symptoms.

To find out more about people who have started buying cannabis for pain and/or insomnia, the researchers used survey data from people who purchased cannabis from two retail stores in Colorado, where it is legal for both medical and recreational use — meaning any adult over 21 with a valid government ID may purchase product.

“In states where adult use of cannabis is legal, our research suggests that many individuals bypass the medical cannabis route (which requires registering with the state) and are instead opting for the privacy of a legal adult use dispensary,” says Wurm.

Although the survey was conducted among customers willing to participate — meaning the results may not reflect the overall population of dispensary customers — other national survey data, and data from medical patients at medical cannabis dispensaries, also show that people who use cannabis to treat symptoms both decrease and stop their use of prescription medications.

In fact, previous research has shown that states with medical cannabis laws have a 6.38% lower rate of opioid prescribing, and that Colorado’s adult-use cannabis law is associated with a relative reduction in opioid overdose death rate from 1999 to 2010.

“Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen cause GI bleeding or kidney damage with chronic use. Paracetemol (Acetaminophen) toxicity is the second most common cause of liver transplantation worldwide, and is responsible for 56,000 ER visits, 2600 hospitalizations, and 500 deaths per year in the U.S,” said Wurm.

Still, the researchers say that more research is needed to better understand the health benefits and side effects of cannabis.

“The challenge is that health providers are far behind in knowing which cannabis products work and which do not. Until there is more research into which cannabis products work for which symptoms, patients will do their own trial and error experiments, getting advice from friends, social media and dispensary employees,”  Wurm said.

Source: Taylor & Francis Group

Many People with Pain, Insomnia May Be Turning to Legal Cannabis

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2019). Many People with Pain, Insomnia May Be Turning to Legal Cannabis. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 20, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 6 Jul 2019 (Originally: 6 Jul 2019)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 6 Jul 2019
Published on Psych All rights reserved.