Marijuana as a Substitute for Prescription Medications: A Qualitative Study

Subst Use Misuse. 2019;54(11):1894-1902. doi: 10.1080/10826084.2019.1618336. Epub 2019 Jun 10.


Background: Over the past few decades in the United States, marijuana for medical purposes has become increasingly prevalent. Initial qualitative and epidemiological research suggests that marijuana may be a promising substitute for traditional pharmacotherapies. Objectives: This qualitative study examined perceptions relating to (1) using medical marijuana in comparison to other prescription medications and (2) user perception of policy issues that limit adoption of medical marijuana use. Methods: Qualitative interviews were conducted with Rhode Island medical marijuana card holders (N = 25). The interviews followed a semi-structured agenda designed to collect information from participants about their reasons for, and perceptions of, medical marijuana use. All interviews were audio recorded, transcribed verbatim, and de-identified. Qualitative codes were developed from the agenda and emergent topics raised by the participants. Results: Three themes emerged related to medical marijuana use, including (1) comparison of medical marijuana to other medications (i.e., better and/or fewer side effects than prescription medications, improves quality of life), (2) substitution of marijuana for other medications (i.e., in addition to or instead of), and (3) how perception of medical marijuana policy impacts use (i.e., stigma, travel, cost, and lack of instruction regarding use). Conclusions: Several factors prevent pervasive medical marijuana use, including stigma, cost, and the inability for healthcare providers to relay instructions regarding dosing, strain, and method of use. Findings suggest that medical patients consider marijuana to be a viable alternative for opioids and other prescription medications, though certain policy barriers inhibit widespread implementation of marijuana as a treatment option.

Keywords: Medical marijuana; cannabis; marijuana policy; prescription substitution; qualitative interviews.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Health Personnel
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical Marijuana / therapeutic use*
  • Middle Aged
  • Prescription Drugs
  • Qualitative Research
  • Quality of Life*
  • Rhode Island
  • Social Stigma*
  • United States
  • Young Adult


  • Medical Marijuana
  • Prescription Drugs