Photo: Kevork Djansezian (Getty Images)

A recent study has found that adults with access to legal cannabis not only use it to help with pain and trouble sleeping, but they often use it as a substitute for prescription medication, including opioids.

According to researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York and the University of Miami, medical cannabis patients “consistently report using cannabis as a substitute for prescription medications; however, little is known about individuals accessing cannabis through adult-use markets.”

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With that in mind, the researchers surveyed 1,000 adult-use only customers at two different retail cannabis shops in the state of Colorado from August 2016 to October 2016. Their findings, published in the study “Use of Cannabis to Relieve Pain and Promote Sleep by Customers at an Adult Use Dispensary,” found that 65 percent of adult-use customers reported using cannabis to help with pain, and 74 percent reported using it to help them sleep. For those who used cannabis to help with pain, 80 percent reported that it was “very or extremely helpful” in relieving their pain.

Among the adult-use customers who used it as a substitute for over-the-counter pain medications, 82 percent reported reducing or stopping the use of those medications in favor of cannabis, while 88 percent of those who used it as a substitute for opioids reported the same.

In the group of adult-use customers who used cannabis as a sleep aid, 84 percent found it to be “very or extremely helpful,” with 87 percent of those who had been using either prescription or over-the-counter sleep aids either reducing or stopping the use of those medications in favor of cannabis.

Of the 1,000 adults included in the study, 90 percent were under the age of 50, 42 percent were women, and 66 percent were white.

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The study concluded:

de facto medical cannabis use is common among adult-use customers at a cannabis dispensary. Both pain relief and sleep promotion are common reasons for cannabis use, and the majority of respondents who reported using cannabis for these reasons also reported decreasing or stopping their use of prescription or over-the-counter analgesics and sleep aids. While adult-use laws are frequently called “recreational,” implying that cannabis obtained through the adult- use system is only for pleasure or experience-seeking, our findings suggest that many customers use cannabis for symptom relief.

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In response to the study’s findings, Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML said in a press release: “Several prior studies similarly show that the use of cannabis by qualified patients is associated with the reduction, or even the elimination, of certain other prescription drugs—specifically opioids—over time. These findings speak not only to the therapeutic efficacy of cannabis as an alternative analgesic option but also to its potential role as a harm reduction agent.”

Indeed. If the United States wants to really make an impact in its opioid crisis, it should reconsider federal cannabis legislation.