Can I Take Cannabis to Replace Other Medications?
Article written by
Ruth LemonVP of Operations
Content reviewed by
Dr. Lewis JasseyMedical Director - Pediatric Medicine
Table of contents
A couple decades ago the idea of replacing prescription medications with medical marijuana wasn’t widely accepted. In fact, after California was the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996 it was a slow progression to where we are today. But now, medical marijuana is legal in almost all the United States. More than ever, people are using cannabis to replace other medications, and often reducing or replacing the need for more addictive medications– and more doctors than ever are on board with this change.
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What Medications Can Be Replaced with Cannabis?
Many people are looking for a safer alternative to prescription medications, but it’s not only prescriptions that can be replaced with cannabis. Many people reduce the number of over-the-counter drugs they take by using cannabis as well. Common medications like ibuprofen or Tylenol, which are generally used for minor aches, pains, and inflammation, are often replaced by cannabis, with cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) showing lots of promise as an anti-inflammatory.
Of course, chronic pain is one of the most common reasons people turn to medical marijuana in the first place. So, it’s probably no surprise that pain killers, both over the counter and prescription, can be substituted with cannabis. In fact, studies in recent years have found that opioid pain killer use (and abuse) are significantly lower where medical marijuana is legal.
Beyond pain killers, people can also reduce or even eliminate the use of many different anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medications, especially sedatives. You could also substitute cannabis for sleeping aids, anti-nausea meds, epilepsy medications, and more.
Who Most Often Replaces Prescription Medicines with Medical Marijuana?
Though there are many medications that could potentially be replaced with cannabis, some are more readily replaced than others. The two most common reasons someone applies for a medical marijuana card are chronic pain and mental health disorders like depression and anxiety. This should make it no surprise that medications used to treat such conditions top the list when it comes to patients wanting to reduce their pill intake.
Opioids are one of the most common prescriptions that people replace with medical marijuana, and for good reason. In the last decade we’ve seen an epidemic of opioid addiction that has affected millions of lives. Finding a safer, non-addictive alternative was necessary – and many believe that medical marijuana could not only be an alternative for pain relief but could aid in fighting addiction as well.
Next to opioids, sedative medications known as benzos (benzodiazepines) including Klonopin, Valium and other medicines given to patients with anxiety, insomnia, or muscle spasms. These medications, like opioids, have a high potential for addiction and dependency, so many are looking for an alternative.
A study of 2,774 participants found 46% reported substituting cannabis for a pharmaceutical drug. Published by Dr. James Corroon, the Medical Director at the Center for Medical Cannabis in California, it is not the only study of its kind.
Another study, published by Dr. Chad Purcell, a surgical resident at Dalhousie University, looked specifically at patients taking benzodiazepines already. Almost a third of those patients had stopped their benzodiazepine treatment within two months. By four months, almost 45% had replaced their prescriptions with medical marijuana.
A more recent study, led by Philippe Lucas, VP of Global Patient Access and Research at Tilray looked at patterns and substitutions in Canada, where medical and recreational marijuana are legal nationwide. Of 2,032 Canadian medical marijuana patients, 69% reported using cannabis in place of prescription drugs.
Is it Safe to Replace Other Medications with Cannabis?
So, now that we know that there are many medications that can be replaced with cannabis the most important question is, is it safe to do? Replacing or stopping any medication is something that you should talk about with your doctor about. No one can tell you more accurately what to expect when starting or stopping a prescription medication, and there’s no telling how medical marijuana could mix with other medications you might not be able to replace.
Many prescription medications, especially opioids and other prescription painkillers, benzodiazepines and antidepressants are dangerous to stop suddenly. Whether you feel like your body is dependent on the medication or not, there is always a chance of negative side effects from changing or stopping a medicine. Sudden withdrawal (cold turkey) of these types of drugs – in particular benzodiazepines – may also increase the chances of seizures and/or post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). Quitting cold turkey may therefore increase the chances of recidivism.
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If you’re considering using medical marijuana to replace your current medications you should always talk to your doctor, or your state-certified medical marijuana doctor. Whenever possible, talk to all healthcare professionals overseeing your care to make sure that everyone knows your plan. In the end, it’s your body and switching to medical marijuana could make a lot of sense for your condition, but it’s important to go about the switch as safely as possible. Setting up an appropriate, medically-supervised plan will give you the best chance of overcoming your addiction.
Leafwell can set you up with a medical marijuana doctor in your state who can help you determine if you might benefit from replacing your medications with cannabis.
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