Replacement of Medications

Replacement of Medications legally prescribed by physicians is a common trend among the majority of medical marijuana users. Recent studies indicate that the replacement of legal medications with the remarkably safe alternative of medicinal cannabis may greatly increase a patient’s longevity. According to an overview of research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1998, bad reactions to prescription and over-the-counter medications kill more than 100,000 Americans per year and seriously injure an additional 2.1 million. The article’s author, Dr. Bruce Pomeranz, wrote that these deaths and other permanent injuries are not caused by medical errors or drug abuse. Blame was laid on the drugs themselves; virtually all medications can have serious side effects and some are fatal even in recommended doses. Pomeranz and colleagues estimated that 7% of all hospital admissions in the United States are due to bad reactions to legal medications. Low estimates rank adverse reactions to legal medications as the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. [1] Of great concern to patients is the fact that the instances of prescription-related deaths more than doubled in American patients during the period of 1983 to 1993. [2]

Aside from death and permanent injury, most legal prescription medications have unwanted side effects that can radically undermine a patient’s quality of life. Although a small percentage of patients in clinical trials and research studies report that the psychoactive side effects of THC are not always well tolerated, these side effects usually diminish with repeated use. (See Tolerance.) One of eighty-five legally prescribable psychoactive drugs in the standard pharmacopoeia, [3] delta-9 THC (Marinol) is often said to be too powerful in present forms. [4] However, the health risks of THC intoxication, whether the substance is ingested in pill form or smoked as whole marijuana, are minimal compared to the side effects of many pharmaceutical medications.

In 2008, the Canadian Medical Association Journal published a meta-study spanning 30 years of research. Authors from both Montreal and British Columbia "did not find a higher incidence rate of serious adverse events associated with medical cannabinoid use."[5]

NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano comments on that recent Canadian conclusion:

"Cannabinoids possess a safety profile that is unmatched by virtually every other available prescription drug or over-the-counter medication, including aspirin. To think that almost no serious adverse side effects have been associated with drug's medicinal use over a 30-year period is remarkable. What other medications can make such a claim?" [6]

Compazine, a drug used to control severe nausea, psychotic disorders, and nonpsychotic anxiety, is known to produce irreversible Tardive Dyskinesia—a loss of control over voluntary muscles—and symptoms similar to those of Parkinson’s Disease. [7] In turn, Levododa, the drug most commonly used to treat Parkinson’s Disease, is recently shown to produce visual and auditory hallucinations. [8] Popular medicines such as the entire range of widely prescribed Non-Steroid Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) are the cause of over 7,600 deaths and 70,000 hospitalizations per year. [9] A common migraine, medication, Cafergot, is a vasodilator that can cause gangrene. A newer migraine medication, Imitrex, causes severe chest pains. Thorazine is a standard tranquilizer to treat psychotic disorders, nausea and vomiting, restlessness, porphyria (sometimes caused by the use of sulfonamides, barbiturates, or other drugs), tetnus, manic-depressive illness, intractable hiccups, severe behavior problems, and migrane headaches. Thorazine is another drug known to cause Tardive Dyskinesia, a syndrome of potentially irreversible loss of muscle control. Thorazine also causes Neuroplectic Malignant Syndrome, with symptoms including high fever, muscle stiffness, altered mental status, irregular pulse, extreme heart rate, and death. [10] A potent new painkiller, Duract, is known to produce potentially fatal liver damage. [11] Rezulin, a new pill for treating diabetes, is also known to cause fatal liver damage. Rezulin was used by more than one million patients, even after FDA physicians admitted “the agency initially overlooked compelling evidence of its danger to the liver.” [12] The popular impotence pill, Viagra, the largest-selling drug in US history, caused at least six deaths in the first month of FDA-approved use. [13] Hundreds of people have died from using the sex drug. Viagra is also known to cause retinal dysfunction, and some users have reported blue-tinted vision and vivid hallucinations. [14] These examples represent thousands of adverse reactions to legal medications, many of which are listed in the Physician’s Desk Reference of Pharmaceutical Products as well as in after-market health warnings issued by drug manufacturers.

Even common over-the-counter medicines have associated dangers; Aspirin is known to cause stomach bleeding and near 1,000 American deaths per year. [15] Acetaminophen (Tylenol), a common replacement for aspirin, is linked to liver and kidney failure with continued use. [16] Five times the recommended does of Tylenol would “unequivocally produce a life-threatening injury in anybody,” according to Eugene Schiff, director of the Center for Liver Diseases at the University of Miami School of Medicine. William Lee, professor of Internal Medicine at the University of Texas, also warns patients about the dangers of Tylenol, declaring that, “no over-the-counter drug has a narrower range between therapy and toxicity than acetaminophen.” The number of deaths attributable to Tylenol is higher than the number of deaths due to cocaine overdose. [17]

In general, drugs that suppress the nervous system tend to cause psychological depression and severely inhibit mental clarity. Addictive drugs such as benzodiazepines, opiates, and opiate derivatives can create far reaching psychological consequences, often leading to a distinct shift in personal values centered around consumption of the substance. While these side effects are currently being recognized, many more unwelcome effects may become obvious over the course of continued use. Every patient should be aware that 90% of the medications in use today have been introduced into the human body only within the last 30 years; there is absolutely no data available on long-term use. [18] At the end of the twentieth century, nearly all of the drugs prescribed by physicians have been in use for less than half of an average human life. In comparison, over a documented history of 5,000 years, cannabis has been shown to be one of the safest and most widely used therapeutic agents known to mankind. A complete review of marijuana studies during the drug war years prompted Dr. Lester Grinspoon to conclude, “The years of effort devoted to showing marijuana is exceedingly dangerous have proved the opposite.” [19]

Why has the US government spent vast fortunes in a vain attempt to identify the destructive effects of this innocuous herb? With the use of cannabis as a replacement for dangerous medications, pharmaceutical companies are losing huge profits. In 1998, more than 2.8 billion prescriptions were filled—more than eleven for every man, woman, and child in the United States. Economic incentives fuel the federal ban on medical marijuana, a renewable source of unpatentable medicines. Medications commonly replaced by cannabis include antiemetics, anticonvulsants, antidepressants, barbiturates, hypnotics, insulin, [20] muscle relaxers, nonsteroid anti-inflammatory drugs, steroid drugs, tranquilizers, sedatives, opiate and nonopiate pain killers, and many other medications known to have serious health risks.

Note: The physician in charge should be informed of all medication adjustments, even in light on federal and state anti-marijuana laws.

Related sections: Addiction, Cancer, Psychoactivity, Toxicity




[1] “Drug reactions kill more than 100,000.” Associated Press, May 14, 1998

[2] “Deaths from drug errors rise sharply for outpatients.” The Seattle Times, February 28, 1998

[3] Conversations with Rob Killian, MD, 1998

[4] McWilliams, Testimony before the California Senate Medical Marijuana Distribution Summit, May 26, 1998, Source: California Senate Rules Committee

[5] “The adverse effects of cannabinoids: implications for use of medical marijuana” Louisa Degenhardt, MPsych(Clin) PhD and Wayne D. Hall, PhD CMAJ • June 17, 2008; 178 (13). doi:10.1503/cmaj.080585.© 2008 Canadian Medical Association or its licensors


[7] Physician’s Desk Reference of Pharmaceutical Products. Montvale, NJ: Economics Data Production Company, 1994

[8] “Parkinson’s drug may spur hallucinations.” Reuter’s Health Information, May 11, 1998

[9] Grinspoon, Science, 1997

[10] Physician’s Desk Reference of Pharmaceutical Products, op. cit.

[11] “Painkiller can harm liver, FDA warns.” Associated Press, February 11, 1998

[12] Willman, “Fast track diabetes drug tied to 33 deaths.” Los Angeles Times, December 6, 1998

[13] 6 o’clock News, ABC affiliate KGO TV in San Francisco, June 3, 1998

[14] “New Jersey man claims Viagra vision problem caused car crash.” Associated Press, July 28, 1998

[15] Grinspoon, Affidavit before Judge Riccardo Martinez, King County Superior Court, WA September 26, 1997

[16] Eaton, “What you don’t know can kill you.” 1998

[17] Grinspoon and Bakalar, “Marijuana: An old medicine of the future.” 1997, Source:

[18] “Ask Andrew Weil.” Health questions answered online,

[19] Grinspoon and Bakalar, op. cit.

[20] Letters, High Times, No. 273, May 1998