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Pain relief: Pot Vs. Pills

(NBC News)

LOS ANGELES – Medical marijuana could be the answer to overcoming the nation's opioid epidemic, but so far the only evidence cannabis can relieve pain comes from patients. 

Separate car accidents changed the lives of Robby Pinnamaneni and Alex Jordan.

Both suffered broken bones in their spine, leaving them with chronic, severe pain. They could have turned to powerful addictive opioid painkillers, but say they found relief elsewhere.

"I turned to cannabis in lieu of pills, and I've never turned back," Pinnamaneni said.

A growing number of people like Pinnamaneni and Jordan say that they're getting life-changing medicine not from a traditional pharmacy, but from modern, medical grade marijuana.

Triple Seven in Los Angeles grows and dispenses marijuana. 

Recreational use is legal for adults in California, but Triple Seven's Cameron Wald says more than half of his customers are not looking for a high. They want to heal.  

"They have horrible pain. They can't function on a day to day basis without medical marijuana," Wald said.

It's not just joints. People are also putting cannabis oils under their tongues and rubbing cannabis salves on anything that hurts.

Still, there's no scientific evidence any of it works. That's why Dr. Jeffrey Chen started UCLA's Cannabis Research Initiative.

"This is something where the public consumption of cannabis has already far outpaced our scientific understanding, so we really desperately need to catch up," Chen said.

One major stumbling block: The federal government considers marijuana a Schedule 1 drug, the same as heroin.  That means research is highly restricted. 

"If we can be allowed to study this in a clinical way consistently, I think there's going to be a lot of things gained," Wald said.

Pinnamaneni and Jordan, who both now work for Triple Seven, swear by the power of pot to relieve pain. 

"Within 15 minutes, I'm feeling a relief that makes me be able to work again," Jordan said.

The laws are different in every state, but at least 30 states have legalized some form of medical cannabis.