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Canadian Study Suggests Medical Cannabis Reduces The Need For Benzodiazepines

With anything cannabis related, there are always studies which both support and refute any given supposition. Is medical cannabis usage successful in weaning patients off of prescription drugs? That is the subject of many debates. This article showcases a first of its kind study that suggests that medical cannabis may reduce the need for benzodiazepines.

A new study, from the Canadian cannabis company Aleafia Health, found that there was a significant and fairly immediate reduction of benzodiazepine use by patients using medical cannabis. The peer-review study, published in the journal of Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, was carried out by researchers at Dalhousie and Acadia Universities in Canada.

The researchers began the study by examining the data of 146 benzodiazepine users two months after they started medical cannabis treatment. 44 (30.1%) of the participants in the study stopped using the drug within that time period with the number increasing to 66 (45.2%) after six months of cannabis usage.

In case you are unfamiliar with benzodiazepines, typically referred to as “benzos,” they are used to treat anxiety and seizures, relieve insomnia and muscle spasms, and may relieve many of the unpleasant side effects of alcohol withdrawal. Benzodiazepines are often prescribed along side opioids and together they are the most frequently abused prescription drugs in the world. You will recognize them as Xanax, Ativan, Valium, Librium and Klonopin, to name a few.

Short-term use is supposedly safe with drowsiness or dizziness as its most common side effect. Some users experience the “hangover effect,” where the drowsiness spills over into the next day. Users are cautioned against driving, operating heavy machinery and engaging in other potential hazardous tasks. Long-term use is much more dangerous. Side effects range from concentration problems, tolerance, addiction and overdose.

All the data in the study was collected from the database of Canabo Medical Clinics (owned by Aleafia Health). Their specialty is prescribing medical cannabis treatment within a controlled protocol. The patients self-reported the information that the Canabo Clinic treating physician recorded. Prescriptions are typically written for a 2-month period. Participants were asked to complete a total of 3 appointments which supplied the data over a 6-month period.

884 patients were identified as possible participants. After eliminating those patients who did not complete the 3 visits or who did not supply sufficient data within the study’s time frame, researchers were left with relevant data from 146 participants. Their demographics include:

  • Average age 47.7 years
  • 61% identified as female
  • 54% reported previous cannabis usage
  • 97.6% reported no previous recreational drug usage
  • There was no significant demographic explanation for those who stopped using benzodiazepine versus those who continued using it

Researchers also took into account other relevant factors on benzodiazepine usage such as THC and CBD medical cannabis content, and any changes in the way that the medical conditions of participants was affecting their lives.

It is worthy to note that the management and cessation of benzodiazepine usage is not an objective of any Canabo Clinic physician and it is unclear who initiated it; a physician or patients. Their treatment regimen is solely to treat their patients’ primary medical condition. Neither were patients tested to verify benzodiazepine cessation. Data was entirely based on self-reporting by patients at their clinic visits.

Participants were also asked about their quality of life in regards to the effects of their medical condition. They were asked how much they agreed with the following statement; “life is affected/impacted by my medical condition all the time.” At the beginning of the study, 74% of patients acknowledged that their medical condition impacted their lives all the time. At the end of the 3 clinic visits, 45% who continued benzodiazepine usage felt that their lives were highly affected by their medical condition while only 30.3% of those who discontinued its use reported feeling this way.

The other options on the quality of life question were “most of the time” and “occasionally/rarely.” At the start of the study, only 3.4% of patients identified with the statement that their medical condition “occasionally/rarely” had an impact on their lives. By the last visit, 16.3% of patients who continued medical cannabis treatment along with benzodiazepine usage and 25.8% who stopped using the drug felt that their medical condition “occasionally/rarely” affected their lives.

The THC or CBD content of the medical cannabis was not a factor in whether or not they discontinued the use of benzodiazepines.

The researchers do want to be clear that much more study and randomized clinical trials are necessary before arriving at the conclusion that there is a cause and effect between medical cannabis usage and the cessation of benzodiazepine usage. Other considerations for further studies would be collecting data on the usage of different cannabis strains, on benzodiazepine dosage and duration of use, and on the reason for the cessation of usage.

Nevertheless, the data suggests that there is some correlation between medical cannabis therapy and the decrease in benzodiazepine use.

Source: Analyticalcannabis.com, Medical Cannabis Greatly Reduces Use of Benzodiazepine in Patients, Alexander Beadle, Feb 11, 2019

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