Study Finds Military Veterans Often Substitute Medical Marijuana for Alcohol and Prescription Drugs

 According to a new study published in The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse and epublished by the U.S. National Institute of Health, military veterans who use medical marijuana frequently substitute cannabis for alcohol and other controlled substances.

For the study, titled A cross-sectional examination of choice and behavior of veterans with access to free medicinal cannabis, researchers 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 consuming cannabis therapeutically to mitigate symptoms of chronic pain (69 percent), anxiety (66 percent), post-traumatic stress (59 percent), and depression (56 percent).

As reported by NORML, 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.”

Full text of the study, “A cross-sectional examination of choice and behavior of veterans with access to free medicinal cannabis,” appears in The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse. Additional information is available in the NORML fact-sheet, “Marijuana and Veteran Issues.”

The full abstract of the study is below:

Background: With a rise in public pressure to increase veteran access to medicinal cannabis, free cannabis collectives for military veterans are proliferating across the US. Objectives: The aim of the current study was to document which cannabis formulations and routes of administration are chosen by veterans with increased access to cannabis, and to determine whether cannabis is being used as a substitute for other licit and illicit drugs. Method: The current study collected cross-sectional self-report data on cannabis use, cannabinoid constituent composition, primary indication of use, and substitution practices among a sample of 93 US military veterans (84.9% male) with access to free cannabis. Result: Most of the sample reported using cannabinoids as a substitute for either alcohol, tobacco, prescription medications, or illicit substances, reported that they use cannabis frequently (Modal frequency >4x/day, Modal quantity = 5 to 8 grams/week), and primarily select higher-risk cannabis formulations (i.e., high THC/low CBD, smoked). The majority of the sample reported that they use cannabis to self-treat multiple physical and mental health conditions/symptoms. Conclusions: Results of the current study suggest that military Veterans with reduced barriers to access cannabis could be making both helpful and harmful choices regarding their cannabis use. These findings suggest that more guidance on the selection of cannabis-based products in this population is warranted, particularly as barriers to medicinal cannabis access are reduced.

For more information on this study, including a link to its full text, click here.

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Emily Watkins is a PhD student majoring in public policy. Emily has been a freelance editor for multiple websites, and has spent hundreds of hours volunteering to help legalize marijuana. She currently resides in sunny Los Angeles, and can be reached at