Med-Pot Patients Turn Away from Prescription Pills, Booze

Patients with access to pot typically reduce their consumption of prescription pills, booze and hard drugs, according to Canadian investigators who assessed the habits of 473 legally recognized medical cannabis patients.

“Substituting cannabis for one or more of alcohol, illicit drugs or prescription drugs was reported by 87 percent of respondents, with 80.3 percent reporting substitution for prescription drugs, 51.7 percent for alcohol, and 32.6 percent for illicit substances,” they reported.

Rates of substitution were highest among respondents between the ages of 18 and 40. Patients using cannabis for pain were most likely to use pot as a substitute for prescription drugs.

“The finding that cannabis was substituted for alcohol and illicit substances suggests that the medical use of cannabis may play a harm reduction role in the context of use of these substances, and could have implications for substance use treatment approaches requiring abstinence from cannabis in the process of reducing the use of other substances,” the authors concluded.

Their findings appear  this month online in the journal Drug and Alcohol Review.

More Pot, Fewer Pills

The findings are not surprising. A recent evaluation of patients enrolled in Arizona’s medical cannabis program similarly reported that most respondents used conventional pharmaceuticals “less frequently” after initiating pot therapy. An assessment of patients in Rhode Island’s med-pot program yielded similar results.

A 2012 study authored by investigators at the Centre for Addictions research in British Columbia also reported that chronic pain patients frequently used cannabis in adjunct with opioids, resulting in “a greater cumulative relief of pain [and] in a reduction in the use of opiates.” Clinical trial data published in 2011 in the journal Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics substantiates this behavior, finding that inhaled “cannabis augments the analgesic effect of opioids” and that this “combination may allow for opioid treatment at lower doses with fewer side effects.”

Not surprisingly, states that permit medical cannabis access experience fewer opioid-related fatalities and have seen a decrease in patients with opiate addiction.

And Less Booze

Medical cannabis patient data from California also affirms that legal pot access is associated with a “significantly lower” alcohol prevalence, as well as lower use of other illicit substances. While definitive data regarding whether cannabis may be a substitute for booze is not yet available, a 2014 review published in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism postulates that such a relationship is likely.

“While more research and improved study designs are needed to better identify the extent and impact of cannabis substitution on those affected by AUD (alcohol use disorders), cannabis does appear to be a potential substitute for alcohol,” the author concluded. “Perhaps more importantly, cannabis is both safer and potentially less addictive than benzodiazepines and other pharmaceuticals that have been evaluated as substitutes for alcohol.”

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