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Study: Veterans Often Substitute Medical Cannabis for Alcohol, Prescription Drugs


Marijuana and OpioidsMilitary veterans who participate in a state’s medical marijuana access program frequently report substituting cannabis for alcohol and other controlled substances, according to data published in The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse.

A team of investigators from Palo Alto University in California, Harvard University, and the Perelman School of Medicine in Philadelphia surveyed marijuana use patterns in 93 US military veterans participating in a medical cannabis collective.

Nearly 80 percent of respondents reported using cannabis “to treat both physical and mental health symptoms.” Respondents were most likely to report using cannabis therapeutically to mitigate symptoms of chronic pain (69 percent), anxiety (66 percent), post-traumatic stress (59 percent), and depression (56 percent).

Over 60 percent of respondents said that they consumed cannabis as a substitute for other illicit or licit substances, particularly alcohol. Nearly half of all respondents said that they use medical cannabis in place of other prescription medications.

Authors concluded, “The current study also confirms the findings of previous studies that have documented a trend in substitution behavior, where cannabis is substituted for other drugs, which, if associated with reduced harm, could be beneficial for overall health.”

Under existing federal regulation, physicians affiliated with the Department of Veterans Affairs may not legally provide the paperwork necessary for veterans to obtain medical cannabis in states that regulate its access.

The abstract of the study, “A cross-sectional examination of choice and behavior of veterans with access to free medicinal cannabis,” is online here. Additional information is available in the NORML fact-sheet “Marijuana and Veteran Issues.”

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