Despite public opinion being so favorable, the jury is still very much out on both the efficacy and health risks of legalized cannabis. Marijuana isn’t the most dangerous drug, in fact, medical marijuana seems to be effective in places where traditional medicine simply isn’t. One surprising benefit of medical marijuana is the tole it’s taking on other more established and more dangerous drugs. As it turns out, when people use marijuana in a medical setting, they’re much less likely to abuse other substances.
A new study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology found that those who used medical cannabis were far less likely to use opioids, alcohol, and antidepressants. Previous studies have shown that states with legalized medical cannabis also had the lowest rates of opioid abuse and overdose, but this study found that the effects of medical cannabis extended far beyond dangerous opioids. Of the over 1,500 involved in the study, 76% used less or no opioids, 38% used less antidepressants, and maybe most surprising, a 42% drop in alcohol use. The effects of medical cannabis didn’t stop there, though. The study went on to find that 72% of people who used medical marijuana used less anti-anxiety medications. On top of that, 67% used less migraine medication, and 65% used less sleep medication.
While medical marijuana clearly has some unique and undeniably beneficial effects, it’s not perfect. Marijuana can cause brain damage, and like any drug that’s inhaled it can damage the throat and lungs, and brings with it an increased risk of cancer. This is especially dangerous for young adults, as those who smoked marijuana and incurred cognitive defects as a result never fully recovered, while adults very rarely showed permanent damage. Marijuana is far from a perfect drug, but it does seem to be less dangerous and less harmful than opioids, which are currently the go-to medication for all things painful. Marijuana might be the lesser of two evils, and as more studies emerge like this one, we’ll be able to make an informed decision on how we, as a country, should move forward in pain management.