In a peer reviewed survey of 1,000 people taking legalized marijuana, 65% of those using it for pain said it was effective and 82% of those said it allowed them to stop taking over-the-counter pain medications or opioid analgesics.

The survey, conducted at two retail stores in Colorado, found similarly striking results among the 74% who reported taking cannabis as a sleep aid. Most of those found it helpful enough to allow them to reduce or stop the use of prescription or over-the-counter sleep medications, the researchers reported.

The results support the idea that broadened access to medical cannabis could lower the use of prescription painkillers, lessening exposure to dangerous side effects, the investigators suggest. They also found that in Colorado and other states where adult use of cannabis is legal, many people will bypass the medical cannabis route, which requires registering with the state, and opt for the privacy of a legal adult use dispensary, said co-author Gwen Wurm, M.D., of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. 

Wurm cautions that more research is needed to understand the health benefits and side effects of cannabis. “The challenge is that health providers are far behind in knowing which cannabis products work and which do not,” said Wurm. “Until there is more research into which cannabis products work for which symptoms, patients will do their own ‘trial and error’ experiments, getting advice from friends, social media and dispensary employees,” she concluded.