A recent study from the University of Georgia suggests that a significant number of the elderly and disabled may be opting for treating themselves with cannabis, while lowering or even discontinuing their use of prescribed opioids.

This may be an important trend, in part due to the alarming rate of opioid overdoses plaguing North America.

There is no record of death from overdose of cannabis.

Those prescribed a regime of opioids (most commonly to relieve chronic pain) often complain of associated side effects such as constipation, nausea, dizziness and fatigue. By augmenting their treatment with cannabis, many either significantly reduce their use of opioids or stop taking them entirely. 

The study revealed that, over a year-long period, the number of daily doses of prescribed opioids dropped by 11%. Use lessened in those being treated for the symptoms most frequently cited as responsive to cannabis, such as pain, depression, anxiety and sleep disorders. Tellingly, prescription use increased for treatment of diseases for which cannabis has been thought to have minimal efficacy.  

Another recent study, from the University of Michigan, reported that patients using cannabis to treat chronic pain exhibited a 64% reduction in the use of opioids.

Insurance coverage for medical cannabis is variable, but is growing in Canada, where 22% of reimbursements to veterans were for medical cannabis. Further, informed speculation points to a reduction of opioid use among this same group. This was highlighted in a recent article in The Globe and Mail on data provided by Veterans Affairs Canada showing a 30% decrease during the past four years of the number of veterans being prescribed benzodiazepines and a nearly 17% decrease in prescriptions for opioids during the same period.  

These results fuel optimism among medical cannabis advocates that physicians—who are obligated to provide the best available information and options to their patients—will increasingly accept the suitability of cannabis as a viable treatment that is not only effective, but safer.