According to the National Sleep Foundation, studies have found that only 43 percent of Americans report being pain-free, and that one in three American adults do not get enough sleep. Often taken to combat both of these issues are over-the-counter medications, including opioids.
Some claim this has contributed to the opioid crisis, the worst addiction epidemic in American history, as Time magazine has documented.
However, some reports suggest a safer alternative can be used for both pain relief and to promote sleep: cannabis. In recent years, cannabis re-entered the mainstream, following countless reports and studies demonstrating its therapeutic properties.
A new study by Julia H. Arnsten and Gwen Wurm adds to the growing body of work pertaining to the medicinal properties of cannabis, exploring the substance's therapeutic role as it relates to pain relief and sleep promotion.
The study, published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, "Use of Cannabis to Relieve Pain and Promote Sleep by Customers at an Adult Use Dispensary," looked at 1,000 adults taking legalized marijuana in the state of Colorado over the course of three months. Ninety percent of respondents were under the age of 50, 42 percent of them women, and 54 percent reported being in good health.
Of all participants, 65 percent reported using cannabis for pain relief, 72 of which reported taking the substance daily. Seventy-four percent of respondents reported taking cannabis to promote sleep.
In both groups, the majority reported substituting cannabis for prescription or over-the-counter medication. Among those taking over-the-counter pain medications, 82 percent reported reducing or stopping use of medication for pain relief. Among those taking opioid analgesics, 88 percent reported reducing or stopping use of those medications.The results were similar among those taking cannabis to combat insomnia. Eighty-three percent of respondents said that they find cannabis "extremely" or "very" helpful for sleep. Eighty-seven percent of those taking over-the-counter sleep aids reported reducing or stopping use of the medications, as did 83 percent of those taking prescription sleep aids.
"Our findings suggest that de facto medical use may be highly prevalent among adult use customers, and that access to an adult use cannabis market may influence individuals' use of other medications," the researchers wrote.
Arnsten and Wurm also noted that some adults – those without health care access or a physician's certification, as well as those concerned about employment discrimination – do not have access to medical cannabis, which is why they turn to dispensaries meant for the general population in states where marijuana is legal for recreational use.In a statement supplied to EurekAlert, Wurm explained why more research is needed to understand the health benefits of cannabis.
"The challenge is that health providers are far behind in knowing which cannabis products work and which do not. 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 said.