Those who have access to marijuana usually lower the amount of prescription pills that they consume. In addition, they also lower the amount of alcohol and hard drugs consumed, say the Canadian investigators who recorded the habits of patients with legal medical marijuana.

“Substituting cannabis for one or more of alcohol, illicit drugs or prescription drugs was reported by 87 percent of respondents, with 80.3 percent reporting substitution for prescription drugs, 51.7 percent for alcohol, and 32.6 percent for illicit substances,” the investigators reported.

Those between the ages of 18-40 typically had the highest rates of substitution; that is to say that those who smoked marijuana for pain relief were more likely to use the drug instead of prescription drugs.

“The finding that cannabis was substituted for alcohol and illicit substances suggests that the medical use of cannabis may play a harm reduction role in the context of use of these substances, and could have implications for substance use treatment approaches requiring abstinence from cannabis in the process of reducing the use of other substances,” the authors stated.

The finding was released this September in the journal Drug and Alcohol Review. Many are not at all surprised. A recent recording of the patients involved in Arizona’s medical marijuana program shows that most of those patients “used conventional pharmaceuticals ‘less frequently’ after initiating pot therapy.” Another record of patients participating in Rhode Island’s program produced the same results. A study in 2012 written by investigators at the Centre for Addictions showed that those who suffered from chronic pain used pot along with opioids. According to them, this resulted in “a greater cumulative relief of pain [and] in a reduction in the use of opiates.” According to data published in 2011 by the journal Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics, “inhaled cannabis augments the analgesic effect of opioids” and that this “combination may allow for opioid treatment at lower doses with fewer side effects.”

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