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Study Finds ‘Recreational’ Cannabis Consumers Using It Medically

July 2, 2019
A study published today in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs found that many customers at Colorado’s adult-use cannabis stores use the product not just for fun, but also to ease issues like pain and insomnia.

'Recreational' customers often end up using cannabis for pain and insomnia.

“While adult-use laws are frequently called ‘recreational,’ implying that cannabis obtained through the adult use system is only for pleasure or experience-seeking,” wrote the study’s authors, “our findings suggest that many customers use cannabis for symptom relief.”

The research team, led by Marcus Bachhuber of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, surveyed 1,000 customers in two Colorado retail stores between August 2016 and October 2016. Customers were asked their age, gender, health status, and their cannabis use.

Of those who responded, 65% said they used cannabis to relieve pain, and 74% reported using cannabis to promote sleep.


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Reducing Other Medicines

The consumers who used cannabis for pain relief often said they were able to reduce their use of other medications because of the cannabis.

Many reported that cannabis helped them reduce or stop taking other medications.

Among those taking over-the-counter medications, 82% reported reducing or stopping those medications. Among respondents taking opioid pain relievers, 88% said they had reduced or stopped those medications.

When it came to cannabis as a sleeping aid, 87% of those who had been taking over-the-counter sleeping medications reported reducing or stopping those medications as a result of cannabis. And 83% of those taking prescription sleeping aids said cannabis had helped them reduce or stop taking those medications.


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Younger, Healthier Respondents

The study has a number of limitations. It’s a voluntary survey completed by a limited number of self-selected cannabis store customers in Colorado. Most of the respondents (90%) were under age 50. Two-thirds identified as white and non-Hispanic, and 42% were women. More than half (54%) described themselves as having excellent or very good health.

“In summary,” Bachhuber and his co-authors wrote, “we found that de facto medical cannabis use is common among adult use customers at a cannabis dispensary.”

Bruce Barcott's Bio Image

Bruce Barcott

Leafly Senior Editor Bruce Barcott oversees news, investigations, and feature projects. He is a Guggenheim Fellow and author of Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America.

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  • Raul Tsi

    I’m actually might have to resort to this soon. I’m having trouble getting my new glaucoma doctor to process my certification to reapply for my therapeutic cannabis patient identification card. Which is stupid because my condition is chronic, I’m going to have glaucoma until the day I die yet the state insists on milking me for money every year. I had a card for 3 years with my old doctor but he left the country so I have to start over. It’s been months now since I sent my paperwork and I’ve emailed him a few times. Meanwhile the state next door has legalized recreational cannabis. What to do? I do not want to go back to street weed, not saying I’ve been spoiled but dayum, it’s so nice knowing your weed is clean and tested.

  • Mcozy333

    the blaring difference in medical cannabis use and recreational use

    Get home from work and consume cannabis plant ( vaporizer , joint ETC…. ) = recreational cannabis use

    Get home from work and consume cannabis plant ( vaporizer , joint ETC…. ) = medical cannabis use

    Such a Huge difference right ?!?

  • Doug Murray


  • Research we released 3 months ago identified the same trend. We have a free summary of findings available for those interested.

  • chad9903

    co2 has no influence on climate