A Canadian company has announced that 40 percent of patients in a study of the effects of medical marijuana were able to quit their use of benzodiazepines within 90 days. After one year, 45 percent had discontinued their use of the powerful drugs.

Canabo Medical, Inc. operates 15 facilities, known as CMClinics, that offer cannabinoid therapies to patients referred by their treating physician.

The announcement was made earlier this month in Toronto by the executive chairman of Canabo, Dr. Neil Smith, at an event sponsored by the Canadian Consortium for the Investigation of Cannabinoids (CCIC). The CCIC is a federally registered, non-profit organization led by university professors and doctors from throughout Canada. The purpose of the CCIC is to advance the understanding of the role of cannabinoids in health and disease through research and education.

In the study, Canabo and a group of medical researchers analyzed data from more than 1,500 patients in an effort to understand how medical marijuana interacts with or lessens the need for pharmaceuticals. Preliminary findings in 2016 indicated a connection between doctor supervised medical cannabis treatments and a sharp drop in patient reliance on benzodiazepines. Further research has confirmed those early results.

The study followed a group of 146 patients being treated for pain and other disorders for one year. The patients had been referred to CMClinics by their primary physician or a specialist, and then were examined by physicians at the clinic before medical marijuana was added to their treatment.

Study participants continued to be treated by their personal physicians to assess the effect of cannabis therapy on the patients’ use of benzodiazepines.

The implications of the study are far-reaching.

Sold under brand names such as Valium and Xanax, benzodiazepines, or “benzos” as they are commonly called, are used daily by 10 percent of Canadians, according to Canabo. They can have side effects including drowsiness, amnesia, sleep disorders, tolerance, dependence and overdose. Long term use may have adverse effects on thinking and reasoning ability.

Dr. Smith and Canabo are very hopeful with the results of the study.

“To say that we’re encouraged is an understatement, but there’s a lot of work still left to be done,” Smith said. “We hope to conduct formal trials both in-house and in collaboration with others, pending further analysis of what we believe to be one of the most promising advancements in many years.”

A report on the study’s findings, “Reduction of Benzodiazepine Use in Patients Prescribed Medical Marijuana,” has been prepared and reviewed by peers. It is slated for publication in the Dalhousie Medical Journal later this year.

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