Medical Cannabis Patients Use Less Opioids, Antidepressants, and Alcohol, Study Finds

According to a new study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, once patients began medical cannabis, those suffering from pain and other medical conditions reduced their use of opioids, antidepressants, sleep medications, alcohol, and other dangerous substances.

A lead researcher on the study, Brian J. Piper, PhD, MS, Assistant Professor of Neuroscience in the Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine, stated that what was discovered after starting medical marijuana, is that many of the patients who were previously using opioids reduced their use of those drugs.


The research was conducted online and surveyed 1,513 people, 66.1 percent of whom were from Maine, while 24.2 percent were from Vermont, and 9.7 percent were from Rhode Island.

The researchers discovered a 76.7 percent drop in regular opioid use, 37.6 percent decrease in antidepressant use, and a 42.0 percent drop in the use of alcohol.

In addition, the majority of respondents also decreased their use of other dangerous drugs after using medical cannabis.

71.8 percent of patients decreased their use of anti-anxiety medications, 66.7 percent used less migraine medications and 65.2 percent used fewer medications for sleep.

The study revealed that the preferred route of administration of medical cannabis for almost half of respondents was smoking it -via joint, pipe, or bong. For one quarter of the subjects it was vaporizer. For the remaining one-quarter, it was edibles (1 of 10) or tincture (1 of 10), according to Dr. Piper.

Overall, an overwhelming 84.7 percent of respondents used cannabis for medical purposes.


Respondents reported that medical cannabis (MC) was the most effective means for treating pain following trauma. On a scale from 0 to 100 percent (100 percent representing “complete relief”), respondents rated medical cannabis’ effectiveness to treat the following conditions with each of its subsequent average scores:


In treating pain following trauma, the average was 77.9 percent. 

For treating menstrual pain, the average was 77.5 percent. 

For treating back and neck pain, the average was 73 percent.

For treating neuropathic pain, the average was 72.3 percent.

For treating cancer pain, the average was 75.8 percent and for treating post-surgery pain, the average was 72 percent.


Although this and many other studies have shown the benefits of medical cannabis,  Dr. Piper feels that the federal law against cannabis hinders the ability to discover whether medical cannabis use is the best strategy to alleviate the opioid epidemic. Because of its 

Federal Schedule I status, it’s extremely difficult to do randomized controlled trials with the strains of medical marijuana that patients are currently using.


During his campaign, President Donald Trump endorsed medical cannabis and said that states should be free to legalize it, but his appointment of Jeff Sessions, who has vehemently opposed legalized cannabis as U.S. Attorney General, has many people worried.

During a speech he gave to law enforcement officials in Virginia, Mr. Sessions stated that cannabis was “only slightly less awful“ than heroin. Sessions went on to say during that speech,


“I realize this may be an unfashionable belief in a time of growing tolerance of drug use. But too many lives are at stake to worry about being fashionable. I reject the idea that America will be a better place if marijuana is sold in every corner store. And I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana – so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another that’s only slightly less awful. Our nation needs to say clearly once again that using drugs will destroy your life.”

Dr. Piper, along with numerous other doctors and scientists, feels that there is an extremely low overdose potential for marijuana, when compared with alcohol or heroin and opioids like vicodin and oxycontin. The risk for overdose is simply a lot less for cannabinoids than those other classes of drugs. The risk of overdose for cannabinoid agents is extremely limited, if not non existent.   

It’s very unlikely that a person can “overdose and die” from using cannabis, according to the National Institute On Drug Abuse For Teachers, a division of the Federal Government’s National Institutes of Health.  


There are currently eight states which have approved the controlled legalized sales of cannabis after state voters directly approved the measures.

The District of Columbia also legalized the recreational use of cannabis, but not sales. Additionally, 28 states and the federal district have legalized medical marijuana.

Recreational and medical cannabis use still remains illegal nationally under the Controlled Substances Act and it’s listed under the Schedule I list of drugs, along with LSD and heroin. Ultimately, Congress has the authority to change that classification, but it hasn’t yet done so.

It has been estimated that as of March 1, 2016, there were approximately 2,604,079 medical marijuana users across the U.S.

Dr. Piper continues to conduct research and has the hope that others will as well, to ensure that medical cannabis will ultimately be seen as a viable strategy for dealing with the ongoing opioid epidemic. He would like to follow up his research by looking at medical records and pharmacy records to verify these findings.