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How Many Prescriptions Are Replaced by Cannabis? Canada Study Explores an Answer

May 19, 2017
In the US, we’ve seen a marked drop in opioid overdoses in legal states, prodding the question of whether patients are replacing their prescription medicines with cannabis. Recent survey data collected from patients enrolled in Canada’s MMPR program indicates this may be more than just a correlation.


America’s Opioid Crisis: Can High-CBD Cannabis Combat Pain and Reduce Addiction Rates?

Led by researchers Philippe Lucas and Zach Walsh, this investigation surveyed 271 patients purchasing medical cannabis from Canadian LP Tilray (which, like Leafly, is owned by Privateer Holdings). Seeking to understand who is using medical marijuana and why, they discovered some staggering statistics pertaining to substitution–63% of respondents reported using cannabis in place of prescription medications.

Breaking down the results by drug classes, Lucas and Walsh found that:

  • 30% of respondents replaced opioids with cannabis
  • 16% replaced benzodiazepines
  • 12% replaced antidepressants

How does cannabis interact with other drugs?

The reason? “Less adverse side effects,” said 39% of patients. Others responded that cannabis was safer (27%) and more effective in treating symptoms (16%).

“In light of the growing rate of morbidity and mortality associated with these prescription medications, cannabis could play a significant role in reducing the health burden of problematic prescription drug use,” the authors wrote.

Putting to rest concerns of cannabis dependence, the survey also established a strong tendency for recreational use to precede medicinal use, not the other way around as we see with many pharmaceutical medications. A transition from medical to recreational use was only reported by less than 3% of respondents, indicating a low risk potential.

The substitution effect reaches beyond just the medicine cabinet; cannabis also helped patients curb other types of substance use:

  • 25% of respondents replaced alcohol with cannabis
  • 12% of respondents replaced cigarettes/tobacco with cannabis
  • 3% of respondents replaced illicit drugs with cannabis

Though widely supported by anecdotal evidence, this study is one of hopefully many to substantiate what patients have been experiencing for themselves when it comes to replacing other drugs and habits with cannabis. How might these statistics look in the US, where prescription medication use and abuse runs rampant? That’s a question for future research.

Bailey Rahn's Bio Image

Bailey Rahn

Bailey is a senior content manager at Leafly, specializing in strains and health. She's spent 7+ years researching cannabis products, spreading patients’ stories, and exploring healthy ways of integrating cannabis into daily life.

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  • Felix Sheldon

    Facts are facts. Marijuana Works

  • jim heffner

    No alcohol or hard drugs since 7 January 1976, no nicotine since 4 July 1978, just to add a little anecdotal evidence. Still trying to figure out why the Euros would want to put tobacco in their joints.
    A better quality of life is a worthy goal.

    • Auzi

      I can’t figure it out either..

      • maxwood

        In those days indoor growing tech was in its infancy and most Euro users relied on imported hashish. The concept of vaporization was not yet on horizon and they used the shredded $igarette tobacco to get their joint burning hot enough (700C) to engulf the brick of hashish in (wasteful unhealthy) combustion (causing symptoms blamed on the cannabinoids of course). Decades later it’s still hard to get rid of the nicotine habit and an ignorant public blames that on the cannabis too.

  • grannykate62

    YES esp CBD oil with NO side effects in children ! Bailey repeat repeat this article

  • digtheisland

    I don’t need the study results to know what’s worked for me. I’ve been able to discontinue all anti-inflammatory drugs, Rx & OTC, even Ibuprofin & aspirin that my stomach does not tolerate. Just one small bite of home-made brownie or cookie and I’m pain free the next day. My husband sleeps like a baby these days with same small dose.

  • Mr Green

    I was on pain management for 2 years over 300 mg of oxycodone a day. I managed to quit opiates with marijuana, now I’m a New Jersey medical marijuana patient. I take 2 pills a day for blood pressure and that’s it! Here’s what I don’t miss, being constipated, living in a fog, running out 1 or two days before I can renew and feeling sick, runny nose, joints ache, nauseous, living for a PILL, Looking at the time, counting pills, trying to remember if I took them, counting again, taking more, and I still had back pain. Nights were the worse withdrawing, my legs ached so much and I couldn’t control them. I knew a pill would stop all of the symptoms which I wouldn’t have if I didn’t take the pills in the first place. All I have to do is remember the withdrawal symptoms, which by the way lasted a long time, smoke my medical marijuana and I’ll be fine. Marijuana has been around for 8000 + years and it will never go away. Long Live Marijuana

    • kristine08

      “my legs ache”….you got me on the side effects for sure. I wake up every morning to achy legs, that are begging for oxycodone.
      I just had 2 MAJOR spinal surgeries a year a part. (2 artificial discs implanted) I was down to (1) 10MG pill twice a day, that’s it! I vape hybrid/CBD oil and am trying to wean down all over again, since these surgeries.
      I have been on narcotics since 2000. My neurosurgeon told me, “you will always have to take a tiny dose”, because of the length of time, plus being on Klonopin, make me a huge risk for seizures.

      Insurance will not pay for me to go to rehab for more then 28 days, and every place said i need to be in for 3 months.
      Getting off is super hard, and Mr Green described those withdrawal side effects perfectly. For me, those side effects lasted for more then 3 months!

      • Mr Green

        Hi Kristine08 If you live in NJ and want if you don’t already have a medical marijuana card I can help you get one legally. Just say the word.

    • Christopher

      I know what you mean Mr Green, I`m experiencing Everything you wrote. I don`t wish this on anyone. Trying to save up the $$ to try and get a IL medical card. Wish i lived in Colorado : )

  • LaLeshia Lasky

    I was dxd with Multiple Sclerosis 10 yrs ago and replaced my daily injections with cannabis 5 yrs ago without further relapse or progression of lessions proven with MRI done every two years!!! I live a happier fuller life without the adverse side effects of their prescribed injections.

  • Open Minds

    The reason why cannabis works as a medicine is due to the Endocannabinoid System. Just google “endocannabinoid system” to find out more.

  • sleepyindica

    My brother is a pharmacist and is totally biased to big pharma and using pills. I have grown medical marijuana for years and I have also been prescribed an onslaught of pills for various aliments. Using cannabis, has caused me to take far less pills which have very negative side effects. I can’t convince my brother that medical marijuana is a viable medication and it breaks my heart. I would say that cannabis has saved my life in many ways. This idea that Marijuana is a bad and dangerous drug has to end. It’s pure ignorance. Pill prices have become out of control and offer little for cures. While I have seen over the last twenty years, in my own life, is that cannabis can heal in so many ways is an understatement. I just wish I could get my brother to accept it as a medicine. He says he knows everything about it and that it’s dangerous. It has caused him to disown me to a certain point. I have had to choose between my own health and family because of pills and it sucks.

    • If your brother can ignore the hundreds of studies demonstrating efficacy of cannabis he’s not a very good scientist. He should stick to counting pills.

  • Austin

    C.C. is gone from one of those obvious 4 yet he claimed to have been “sober since ’02” and he was slurring his words the night of his final concert because these things make you STUPID and inebriated (if you have any experience)… He had been living in Florida, the state notorious for doctors handing out pills like candy with his crazy coke-addict wife, Vicky. Screw this! END THE LIES AND JUST LEGALIZE LIKE TOMATOES, NOW!!!!!!!! We are sick of this sh*t.

  • katkelly57

    I was diagnosed w/treatment resistant depression a few years ago…what did the shrink want to do?
    Prescribe more meds., if I’m treatment resistant then WTF?!?

    I told her no thanks, I’ll just stick w/the weed.
    “No, no no! It will only make your depression worse!”, she said.
    She went on about the horrors of weed and I just sat there like she was Charlie Brown’s teacher…wah wah wah, wah wah, wah wah wah.

    The meds always made me feel worse…I’ll stick w/what I know works for me..I don’t need an M.D. behind my name.

  • Justin “Cuándo S. Domingo” Ebb

    Surprised it didn’t cover ADHD meds. Marijuana has been a godsend, improving the quality of my focus and relationships with family, and reduced the temptation to use more pills than I’m prescribed for — smoothly, agreeably, naturally has reduced my dosage by 75%.

  • Michael L. Wallace Jr.
  • Excuse me

    Americans are under the thumb of the FDA, an agency that functions as an enforcement arm for drug companies. Whether it is a supplement or a herbal preparation, if it threatens the hegemony of Big Pharma, and threatens in any way their access to lifetime control of a taxpayer’s biochemistry–think cash flow–they will attempt to regulate it. This has been going on for decades. As long as Congress refuses to write laws granting Americans safety and freedom from unelected bureaucrats and the money that pulls their strings, we will get push back.

    Recent State legalizing efforts show bipartisan support for loosening the arcane cannabis regulation. As long as elections are big money ventures paid for by special interests of any kind, or congressional terms remain unlimited to allow graft and corruption to infect the body politic, we remain, as citizens, tools of the ruling class.

  • muggins5

    Great work, Bailey. Thanks!

  • Bill

    High , I have smoked pot for 45 years and when I first started it was to get HIGH …. BUT little did I know that it was helping with my spine problems & now Lyme Disease . Now the doctors want to feed me full of poison … I know better because pot works and the pharmaceutical company want to squash this until they can get there greedy little paws in the mix !!!! GROW YOUR OWN !!!!!!!! Peace

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  • Dancy Bluhm nbluhm1953@gmail.c

    Does anyone have experience with treating reoccurring herpes with CBD products?