Study compares medical marijuana, prescription pills for chronic pain

Colton Shone
September 13, 2017 07:46 AM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- A new UNM study shows smoking marijuana and ditching narcotics help people enrolled in the state's medical cannabis program deal with debilitating diseases.  


There are nearly 47,000 patients in New Mexico's Medical Cannabis program as of August 2017. According to the New Mexico Department of Health, the top three qualifying conditions are:

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: 19,234
  • Severe Chronic Pain: 13,271
  • Cancer: 2,580

UNM psychology researcher Dr. Jacob Miguel Vigil said their study compared people with chronic pain who enrolled in the state's medical cannabis program to those who stuck with prescription pain pills. It yielded some interesting results.

"They actually reduced and in many cases eliminated the use of broad classes of prescription medications beyond opiates alone," he said.

Vigil said this could potentially tip the scales in favor of ditching prescription opioids -- which has become the center of an abuse epidemic in the state -- for medical marijuana.

"Prescription opioids, for example, and cannabis are scheduled drugs," he said. "One can make the argument that patients might not be better off in switching to another scheduled drug. However, we do know that long-term opioid use is not effective at treating chronic pain. Certainly, opioids tend to lead to a lot of harm and threats to our society."

As for what's next, Vigil said he got permission to conduct a much larger study with thousands of patients.


Colton Shone

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