According to a recent study conducted on 473 Canadians, a large majority of medical marijuana users, 80.3%, reported substituting pot in place of prescription medications. The study also found that participants were more likely to replace alcohol and other illicit drugs with marijuana.

Over the last decade we have witnessed a huge paradigm shift. As of today, only 21 states remain that prosecute for the sale of, both medical and recreational use, transportation of, and the cultivation of cannabis. Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington State have paved the way and legalized all aspects of marijuana use. And in the last few years, citizens in 12 more states have voted for decriminalization. While cannabis is not allowed (yet) for recreational use in states like, California, Massachusetts, and New York — usage and transport is still considered an infraction which may carry a fine — therapeutic use of cannabis is considered legal.

While great strides have been made in this arena, there’s still a long way to go. Medicinal use of marijuana continues to stir controversy on both a personal and a political level. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) still does not recognize or approve the marijuana plant as medicine, making it difficult for clinical trials to uncover the plant’s therapeutic effects. While some studies have been conducted, they were not large enough to determine the true benefits and/or hazards of sporadic or continuous use of marijuana.

Reduced or no side effects from marijuana is a leading argument for why it should replace prescription drugs altogether. However, the clinical study of the healing powers of marijuana is still in its infancy. Even though people have long used cannabis for therapeutic purposes, we still don’t quite know what the right dosage is for each health problem. Also, while many claim to not experience any immediate side effects, there is the risk that new ailments may be lying dormant for now only producing themselves years later.

A major reason for the push for legalization in all 50 states has been the increase in addiction, overdose, and deaths prescription drugs have been attributed to. These opiates are viewed as dangerous, often leading to misuse and overuse, with marijuana offering a safe alternative.

Lab research and the preliminary studies on the medicinal uses of marijuana on adults have shown that for ailments like insomnia, anxiety, and depression, moderate use of marijuana can take the place of Ambien, Xanax, and Zoloft. But medical marijuana may not be for everyone, and more clinical trials will be needed to determine the true impact.

Hopefully, with organizations like Americans for Safe Access, a group that collects and publishes historical information about marijuana as well as outcomes from recent studies, and Norml, an advocacy group looking to reform marijuana laws, more and more people will look to these resources to educate themselves and become better informed.

One potential loser: Big Pharma. Pharmaceutical companies have competed for decades with each other to race drugs to market so they can reap the monetary benefits for years to come. In the their path to glory, appeasing shareholders with huge dividend payouts and skyrocketing revenues, they have left many customers addicted, dead, and/or in litigation. Many consumers have grown despondent, alienated, and downright outraged, turning to cannabis as an alternative remedy.

With additional clinical trials underway it will be interesting to watch how many more people will turn to marijuana to alleviate their pain and suffering, and how long it will take for Pharma to get in on the game. Currently there are two FDA-approved prescription cannabinoid medications, in pill form, that reduce ailments like, pain and inflammation, and nausea. Continued research may lead to FDA approval and introduction of more prescription medications, giving Big Pharma the ability to stay in the game and possibly win big.