It is no secret that chronic pain is the number one reason people use marijuana medically. Chronic pain is pain that occurs either every day or almost every day and persists for longer than three months. It can be caused by an underlying condition, such as fibromyalgia, or be the result of an injury, cancer treatment, etc.

The idea of treating chronic pain with marijuana or THC-derived medicines takes on a whole new meaning in states where both medical and recreational marijuana use are allowed. Of the thirty-seven states that have medical cannabis programs intact, at least eighteen also allow recreational use. Does this give chronic pain patients an opportunity to self-medicate without having to go to a doctor or pharmacist?

A 2019 study published by The Journal of Pain suggests it is not only possible, but highly likely. The study looked at more than 1,300 cases through an online survey that asked regular marijuana users to report why they use it, how often they use it, and which delivery methods they prefer.

The Majority Self-Medicate

A number of surprising statistics came out of the survey. Perhaps none was more surprising than the fact that just 2.6% of the survey participants who utilize marijuana to treat chronic pain have made the decision to do so after consulting with a medical professional. That means more than 93% are treating with marijuana on their own.

On a positive note, roughly 55% at least consult with dispensary staff. That is better than nothing, but a worker in a dispensary is no substitute for a medical professional. This is the very reason more conservative states like Utah have such rigid medical marijuana programs.

A Doctor’s Recommendation Required

There are some recreational-use states that also have well-developed medical programs. But someone who is not interested in jumping through the hoops to utilize medical marijuana can simply buy it as a recreational user and then self-medicate. That is not possible in Utah, at least legally.

All legal marijuana products in Utah are restricted exclusively to medical use. A doctor’s recommendation is required to obtain a medical cannabis card. That card is required to legally purchase marijuana products in the state. Moreover, the state requires either a Qualified Medical Provider or Pharmacy Medical Provider to advise patients about dosage and delivery recommendations.

According to, dosage and delivery are ultimately left up to the patient. However, patients are strongly urged to heed the recommendations that medical providers and pharmacists enter into the state’s electronic verification system. There are strongly urged not to attempt to self-medicate.

OTC vs. Prescription Drugs

The differences between medical-only and recreational-use states, in terms of self-medicating, is a lot like the difference between over the counter and prescription medications. For example, consider a migraine headache suffer who uses OTC pain relievers to manage migraine episodes. That individual self-medicates.

If OTC products don’t do the job, the patient may have to see their doctor for a prescription. Taking the prescription would mean no more self-medicating. However, there are major differences between OTC and prescription painkillers. The same is not true when comparing recreational and medical marijuana.

This raises the question of whether self-medicating really is a wise idea. Yet in states that have both medical and recreational programs, it is really a moot point. Even if a doctor refused to recommend medical marijuana to a patient dealing with chronic pain, that patient could still go buy on the recreational market in order to self-medicate. The data seems to suggest that this is exactly what is happening.

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