Preferences for Medical Marijuana over Prescription Medications Among Persons Living with Chronic Conditions: Alternative, Complementary, and Tapering Uses

J Altern Complement Med. 2018 Feb;24(2):146-153. doi: 10.1089/acm.2017.0184. Epub 2017 Sep 25.


Objectives: Despite expanded legalization and utilization of medical cannabis (MC) internationally, there is a lack of patient-centered data on how MC is used by persons living with chronic conditions in tandem with or instead of prescription medications. This study describes approaches to use of MC vis-à-vis prescription medications in the treatment of selected chronic conditions.

Design: Participants completed semistructured telephone interviews with open-ended questions. Content analysis of qualitative data identified themes and subthemes relating to patient approaches to using MC products.

Participants: Thirty persons (mean age = 44.6 years) living with a range of chronic conditions (e.g., rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn's disease, spinal cord injury/disease, and cancer) who had qualified for and used MC in Illinois.

Results: Participants described a range of approaches to using MC, including (1) as alternatives to using prescription or over-the-counter medications; (2) complementary use with prescription medications; and (3) as a means for tapering off prescription medications. Motives reported for reducing or eliminating prescription medications included concerns regarding toxicity, dependence, and tolerance, and perceptions that MC improves management of certain symptoms and has quicker action and longer lasting effects.

Conclusions: MC appears to serve as both a complementary method for symptom management and treatment of medication side-effects associated with certain chronic conditions, and as an alternative method for treatment of pain, seizures, and inflammation in this population. Additional patient-centered research is needed to identify specific dosing patterns of MC products associated with symptom alleviation and produce longitudinal data assessing chronic disease outcomes with MC use.

Keywords: cannabis/cannabinoids; harm reduction; medical marijuana; pain; symptom management.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Chronic Disease* / drug therapy
  • Chronic Disease* / epidemiology
  • Complementary Therapies / statistics & numerical data*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical Marijuana / therapeutic use*
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Preference / statistics & numerical data*
  • Prescription Drugs / therapeutic use*


  • Medical Marijuana
  • Prescription Drugs