A study on marijuana use has found that 40 per cent of patients prescribed medical cannabis to treat pain and anxiety were able to eliminate their use of tranquilizers like Valium and Xanax within 90 days.
Results of the new study —which has yet to be approved for peer-reviewed publication — were presented at a recent meeting of the Canadian Consortium for the Investigation of Cannabinoids (CCIC) in Toronto. Conducted by the marijuana clinic company, Canabo, the study looked at data from over 1,500 patients and found that 40 per cent of those prescribed medical cannabis cut their use of benzodiazepines within 90 days and 45 per cent eliminated benzodiazepines within a year of using medical cannabis.
Dr. Neil Smith, Executive Chairman of Canabo, called the results “extremely promising.” “When conducting this type of research, experts are typically encouraged by an efficacy rate in the neighbourhood of 10 per cent. To see 45 per cent effectiveness demonstrates that the medical cannabis industry is at a real watershed moment,” said Smith.
Commonly prescribed to relieve mild to moderate anxiety and as sleep aids, benzodiazepines can be both dependence-forming and lead to the development of tolerance, which can cause users to increase their dosage. In Canada, the use of prescription benzodiazepines among the general population was at 10.4 per cent in the year 2013, according to data from the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, a number that had remained relatively stable over the previous five years. Use rates were lowest among children and young adults and highest among seniors, who used prescription benzodiazepines at a rate of 14.1 per cent.
The new results align with other findings such as data from Veterans Affairs Canada, obtained last year by the Globe and Mail, which showed that at the same time that medical marijuana use had increased among veterans, the number of veterans prescribed benzodiazepines dropped almost 30 per cent. Opioid prescriptions decreased as well, by 17 per cent.
The decline in prescription drug use in connection with the use of medically prescribed marijuana has also been documented in the United States where declines in opioid overdoses have been tracked in states where medical marijuana has been legalized, says Dr. Thomas Kerr, researcher with the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS. “This isn’t surprising and we’re seeing the same effect all over the place measured in different ways,” Dr. Kerr said, to the Globe and Mail.
Another recent study by researchers at the University of Victoria and UBC surveyed 277 patients registered under Canada’s medical marijuana program and found that 63 per cent of them reported substituting cannabis for prescription medications. 32 per cent of patients reported substituting cannabis for opioids, 16 per cent for benzodiazepines and 12 per cent for antidepressants.
“In light of the growing rate of morbidity and mortality associated with these prescription medications, cannabis could play a significant role in reducing the health burden of problematic prescription drug use,” say the study’s authors, from the University of Victoria and UBC. The study also found that 25 per cent of patients reported substituting cannabis for alcohol, and 12 per cent substituted pot for cigarettes and tobacco.