Study Finds ‘Recreational’ Cannabis Consumers Using It Medically

Published on July 2, 2019 · Last updated July 28, 2020

A study published today in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs found that many customers at Colorado’s adult-use cannabis stores use the product not just for fun, but also to ease issues like pain and insomnia.

'Recreational' customers often end up using cannabis for pain and insomnia.

“While adult-use laws are frequently called ‘recreational,’ implying that cannabis obtained through the adult use system is only for pleasure or experience-seeking,” wrote the study’s authors, “our findings suggest that many customers use cannabis for symptom relief.”

The research team, led by Marcus Bachhuber of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, surveyed 1,000 customers in two Colorado retail stores between August 2016 and October 2016. Customers were asked their age, gender, health status, and their cannabis use.

Of those who responded, 65% said they used cannabis to relieve pain, and 74% reported using cannabis to promote sleep.

Reducing Other Medicines

The consumers who used cannabis for pain relief often said they were able to reduce their use of other medications because of the cannabis.

Many reported that cannabis helped them reduce or stop taking other medications.

Among those taking over-the-counter medications, 82% reported reducing or stopping those medications. Among respondents taking opioid pain relievers, 88% said they had reduced or stopped those medications.

When it came to cannabis as a sleeping aid, 87% of those who had been taking over-the-counter sleeping medications reported reducing or stopping those medications as a result of cannabis. And 83% of those taking prescription sleeping aids said cannabis had helped them reduce or stop taking those medications.

Younger, Healthier Respondents

The study has a number of limitations. It’s a voluntary survey completed by a limited number of self-selected cannabis store customers in Colorado. Most of the respondents (90%) were under age 50. Two-thirds identified as white and non-Hispanic, and 42% were women. More than half (54%) described themselves as having excellent or very good health.

“In summary,” Bachhuber and his co-authors wrote, “we found that de facto medical cannabis use is common among adult use customers at a cannabis dispensary.”

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Bruce Barcott
Bruce Barcott
Leafly Senior Editor Bruce Barcott oversees news, investigations, and feature projects. He is a Guggenheim Fellow and author of Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America.
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