Many people who get cannabis delivered aren’t just getting high, in fact most are using it to augment or replace prescription drugs, and in some cases wean themselves off addictive painkillers.
That’s according to a new study titled “Exploring cannabis use reasons and experiences among mobile cannabis delivery patients” published in June 2018 in the Journal of Substance Use, which is published by Taylor and Francis.
The study, which delves in to a little-researched area of whether and how people are using cannabis medically, seeks to explore reasons for use and experience with use among users of a medical cannabis delivery service.
Five themes for cannabis use emerged from the study: distrust for the medical field; side effects of prescription drugs; clinical failure; addiction treatment; and cannabis as a prescription drug substitution.
The study concludes that people are seeking cannabis to be delivered to them as an alternative to receiving traditional medical treatments, including as a substitute for opioids to treat chronic pain.
The findings suggest future research should be conducted on whether and how cannabis is being used as a substitute for medical treatments along with the implications of this effect on future health care and health policy, said to Sean D. Young, an associate professor in the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) Department of Family Medicine and the executive director of the University of California Institute for Prediction Technology.
He co-authored the study with Harkiran K. Gill, a Columbia University professor.
“What should be taken from this is this provides some initial support that cannabis users are using it to self-medicate and address their medical needs,” Young told Marijuana.com, “and more research should be done on this topic to better understand the implications of new trends in cannabis use and new marijuana laws”
The study noted that cannabis’ classification as a Schedule I drug has made it difficult to conduct research on its usage and understand its public health implications.
The authors also said this may be the first study to examine customers of a cannabis mobile dispensary, a population whose behaviors are important to understand because mobile delivery is a growing trend and because mobile delivery customers might be composed of a sample of patients more impaired by disabilities.
A sample of 21 people was recruited from San Diego County, California, to take part in the study. The participants were recruited from Grassp, a Santa Monica, California-based medical cannabis delivery service. The criteria for recruitment included being older than 21, using the medical cannabis delivery service at least three times and spending more than $100 on each cannabis order.
David Rheins, founder and executive director the Marijuana Business Association, was encouraged that people who use delivery services are being studied.
“Delivery services are an important and necessary component of any viable medical marijuana system,” Rheins told Marijuana.com. “Many patients are homebound or otherwise unable to conveniently travel to a licensed dispensary to get their medication. I anticipate that delivery services will continue to grow and prosper as legal cannabis is accepted and integrated into our healthcare system.”
More than 90 percent of study participants reported using cannabis for medical purposes, and nearly 70 percent of them said they were also using it recreationally.
More than half of those studied were using cannabis for chronic pain, while roughly a fifth said they were using it for mental health issues. Those who said they were using it for “other” medical reasons listed ringing in the ears, muscle relaxation for cerebral palsy, and as a digestive aid.
The authors of the study said distrust toward the medical field emerged as a major theme in the study. They defined distrust towards the medical field to include distrust toward traditional medicine, prescription drugs, and doctors.
One study participant said his mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when he was a boy, and he saw how she was over-prescribed.
“The amount she was prescribed was horrendous,” the participant stated. “I don’t like the way pharmaceuticals push their product on people.”
Side effects of prescription drugs were another theme. One participant who was injured at work was prescribed Vicodin, Ibuprofen, and Percocet, and “none of them were good to my system.”
Another stated: “I tried different pain medicines including codeine and Advil. I love cannabis because there are no side effects to my kidneys.”
Some study participants also said cannabis helped reduce their dependence on prescription drugs.
“I got addicted to Ritalin, Oxycodone and Vicodin,” one participant said. “I was able to get rid of everything with cannabis.”
Another reported being addicted to benzodiazepines, Adderall and anti-depressants, and was able to get off of all of those medications using cannabis.
Seventy percent of the participants who reported using cannabis to treat chronic pain also reported quitting their prescription pain relievers, including Vicodin, Percocet, Codeine, Advil, Oxycodone and Morphine.
The authors say the results of the study are consistent with previous studies that list chronic pain as a leading medical reason for using cannabis, and the new study also supports previous findings of cannabis being used as a substitute for opioids.
They say the findings have important implications for the opioid epidemic because cannabis could be used to reduce patient dependency.
“We found that because of the fear of opioids and the addictive nature of opioids, many of them were turning to cannabis as an alternative to traditional medical therapies,” Young said.
The authors acknowledged their study has limited validity because of the of small sample size, which comes from a cannabis delivery service where the customers may differ from the population of cannabis users that purchase their cannabis in-person.
Despite that, Young said he was surprised by the findings.
“It was surprising to me. I thought there would be a smaller percentage of people with medical needs,” he told Marijuana.com.