MaryJane Sarvis, an artist in Shaftsbury, Vt., weaned herself from the opioid painkillers she was prescribed for chronic nerve pain. “I felt tired all the time and I was still in pain,” she says. Marijuana works better for her, but costs $200 per month out-of-pocket.

Emily Corwin/VPR

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Emily Corwin/VPR

Recent scientific reviews have found substantial evidence that marijuana can be useful in easing at least some types of chronic pain. Yet even for the majority of Americans who live in states that have legalized medical marijuana, choosing opioids can be much cheaper.

“I can get a bottle of opioids for a dollar on my state insurance,” says MaryJane Sarvis, a textile artist in Shaftsbury, Vt. Instead, Sarvis says, she spends around $200 each month on medical marijuana.

Sarvis has permanent nerve pain from a childhood spine surgery. At 12, a doctor fused 10 of her vertebrae together in what she says was then a state-of-the-art effort to treat scoliosis. Thirty years later, the disks started breaking down. Her doctors told her she’d be on opioids for the rest of her life.

For nearly a decade, Sarvis went from pain clinic to pain clinic. Some prescribed Vicodin, a combination of acetaminophen and the opioid hydrocodone. Others prescribed methadone, a synthetic opioid more often used to treat addiction. The drugs didn’t seem to help.

“I felt tired all the time and I was still in …read more