Cannabis VS Prescription Drugs: How Prices Compare

Cannabis has been categorized as a Schedule 1 drug, or a substance with no medical value and a high potential for abuse.  This categorization makes it federally illegal. It’s also complete balderdash. There are countless studies proving cannabis’ therapeutic value. And when it comes to a high potential for abuse? Well, the CDC has called the prescription drug abuse problem in our country an epidemic. But those prescription drugs are definitely FDA approved unlike cannabis, a plant that grows out of the ground and from which a person cannot overdose.

The Pros and Cons of Prescription Drugs

Not only are pharmaceuticals addictive, they can also come with really scary side effects. We’ve all heard the voice over at the end of a drug commercial either auction-quickly or fake-cheerily spouting off a list of side effects sometimes more terrifying then the ailments the drug is supposed to treat. Every year, about 128,000 patients die from adverse reactions to pharmaceuticals, making adverse reactions to prescription drugs the fourth leading cause of death.

On top of being physically costly, pharmaceuticals are financially expensive. The rising cost of pharmaceuticals is the result of a few factors: drug manufacturers are able to set their own prices without negotiating with the US Department of Health and Human Services, the patenting Prescription Drugs, Prescription Drugs cost more than cannabissystem has basically created a government protected monopoly preventing generic brands from competing, state regulations sometimes make it harder for patients to access generic drugs, and the pharmaceutical industry overstates its need for research and development funding since most of those funds come from the government or private ventures anyway.

Now, I’m not saying that pharmaceuticals are all bad. For all of their side effects and high expense, they do alleviate symptoms and save lives. It’s just silly to think of them as being unequivocally superior to cannabis.

The chemical compounds found within cannabis such as cannabinoids and terpenes have the potential to treat a host of conditions including gastrointestinal disorders, multiple sclerosis, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, insomnia, acne, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, nausea, diabetes, nicotine addiction, and even cancer.  And cannabis’ side effects?  Dry mouth.  Increased hunger. The sensation of being “high.” Paranoia.  Panic attacks.  While these side effects can be inconvenient (depending on the person—lots of people want to feel high), none of them can kill you, and all of them pass.  Finally, cannabis is much less expensive than pharmaceutical drugs.  In fact, depending on the state you live in, you can grow it yourself.

Let’s take a closer look at the cost of some of the most popular pharmaceutical drugs and compare them with the cost of cannabis flower.

Pharmaceuticals

Anxiety

Drug: Xanax

Side Effects: depressed mood, suicidal thoughts, the desire to self-harm, racing thoughts, risk-taking behavior, increased energy, confusion, hostility, agitation, hallucinations, uncontrolled muscle movements, tremors, seizures, pounding heartbeats, drowsiness, slurred speech, clumsiness, memory problems, anxiety.

Warnings: If taken during pregnancy, Xanax could lead to birth defects or to the baby becoming dependent on the drug. It can also be passed into breast milk, so it should not be taken while breastfeeding.  Xanax is habit forming, which means that it can be addictive.  A sudden cessation of Xanax could lead to withdrawal symptoms.  Overdosing can be fatal.

Average Cost: A bottle of 100, 0.25 mg oral tablets is about $357.

Depression

Drug: Zoloft

Side Effects: Dizziness, drowsiness, lethargy, nausea, stomach pain, constipation, upset stomach, dry mouth, changes in weight or appetite, insomnia, decreased libido, impotence, difficulty reaching orgasm, seizures, agitation, hallucinations, fever, rapid heart rate, fainting, clumsiness, headaches, confusion, slurred speech, severe weakness, manic episodes, unusual risk-taking, irritability.          

Warnings: A dangerous drug interaction could occur if Zoloft is taken within 14 days of taking an MAO inhibitor. Taking Zoloft during pregnancy can cause serious complications in the baby, but stopping the drug can cause a relapse of depression.

Average Cost: A bottle of 30, 25 mg oral tablets is about $285.74.

Bipolar Disorder

Drug: Lithobid

Side Effects: Light-headedness, shortness of breath, pounding heartbeats, increased urination, weakness, confusion, memory problems, hallucinations, fever, muscle stiffness, slurred speech, uncontrolled facial twitching, loss of bowel or bladder control, seizure, vomiting, diarrhea, tremors, dehydration, severe headaches, ringing in the ears, vision problems, pain behind the eyes, hand tremors, dry mouth, changes in skin and hair, impotence, decreased libido, uneasiness.          

Warnings: Lithium can be passed on to baby via breast milk, so you should not take Lithobid while nursing.

Average Cost: A bottle of 100, 300 mg oral tablets is about $1,017.76.

Schizophrenia

Drug: Risperidone

Side Effects: uncontrolled face twitching, breast swelling, nipple discharge, decreased libido, impotence, very stiff muscles, high fever, sweating, confusion, rapid or uneven heartbeats, tremors, feeling likely to faint, sudden weakness, feeling sick, chill, sore throat, mouth sores, swollen gums, difficulty swallowing, skin sores, cough, difficulty breathing, easy bruising, unusual bleeding from the nose, mouth, rectum, or vagina, purple or red spots beneath the skin, increased thirst, increased urination, hunger, dry mouth, drowsiness, dry skin, blurred vision, weight loss, weight gain, anxiety, agitation, depressed mood, pain in arms and legs.

Warnings: Taking Risperidone during the last 3 months of pregnancy can cause the baby to become dependent on the drug, but you should not suddenly stop taking Risperidone if you become pregnant. This drug can also harm a breastfeeding baby, so do not take it while nursing or do not breastfeed.

Average Cost: A bottle of 60, 0.25 mg oral tablets is about $62.94.

Insomnia

Drug: Ambien

Side Effects: Chest pain, irregular or rapid heartbeats, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing or swallowing, feeling likely to faint, daytime drowsiness, dizziness, weakness, light-headedness, lethargy, clumsiness, stuffy nose, dry mouth, nose or throat irritation, nausea, constipation, Prescription Drugs, Prescription Drugs for insomniadiarrhea, headache, muscle pain.    

Warnings: Ambien is habit forming, which means it can be addictive. Ambien may harm a baby who is breastfeeding.  Overdosing on Ambien can be fatal.

Average Cost: A bottle of 6, 5 mg tablets is about $76.33.

Chronic Pain

Drug: OxyContin

Side Effects: Shallow breathing, slow heartbeat, clammy skin, seizures, confusion, severe drowsiness, infertility, irregular menstruation, impotence, decreased or loss of libido, light headedness, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, hallucinations, fever, drowsiness, headache, stomach pain, constipation, dry mouth, mild itching.

Warnings: OxyContin can slow or stop your breathing, so people with asthma should not take this drug. This drug can cause addiction.  If taken during pregnancy, this drug can cause severe dependence in the baby.  Consuming this drug with alcohol could lead to death.  An overdose can be fatal.

Average Cost: A bottle of 10, 10 mg oral tablets is about $70.22.

Nausea

Drug: Zofran

Side Effects: Severe constipation, stomach pain, bloating, headache, chest pain, severe dizziness, pounding heart beats, jaundice, blurred vision or temporary loss of vision, agitation, hallucinations, fever, overactive reflexes, vomiting, diarrhea, clumsiness, lethargy.

Warnings: Zofran may cause birth defects, so it should not be taken during pregnancy.

Average Cost: A bottle of 30, 4 mg oral tablets is about $736.36.

Epilepsy

Drug: Acetazolamide

Side Effects: Blurred vision, changes in taste, constipation, diarrhea, drowsiness, frequent urination, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, blood in urine, changes in hearing, convulsions, dark, bloody stools, dark urine, fast breathing, decreased energy, lower back pain, blistered skin, sore throat, tingling in legs or arms, unusual bruising or bleeding, jaundice.        

Warnings: Do not breastfeed while taking Acetazolamide. If you become pregnant while taking this drug, talk to your doctor.

Average Cost: A bottle of 30, 500 mg capsules is about $110.79.

Compared with the Cannabis Flower

Side Effects: Dry mouth, dizziness, increased appetite, memory problems, lack of motivation, depression, paranoia/anxiety, addiction.

Warnings: To ensure the highest quality, make sure that the cannabis you consume is lab tested.

Average Cost: The average price of an ounce (about 28 grams) of high quality cannabis is about $320.67.

Dianna Benjamin

About the author: Dianna Benjamin is a freelance writer, teacher, wife, and mom horrified and fascinated by social justice and our inability--yet constant pursuit--to get it right.