Patients Frequently Substituting Cannabis For Anti-Anxiety Drugs


Patients authorized to legally use medical cannabis frequently substitute it in place of benzodiazepines, according to a pair of new studies published this week. Benzodiazepines are class of drugs primarily used for treating anxiety. According to data compiled by the US Centers for Disease Control, the drug was attributed to over 11,500 overdose deaths in 2017.

In the first study, Canadian researchers assessed the relationship between cannabis and benzodiazepines in a cohort of 146 patients enrolled in the nation’s medical marijuana access program. They reported that 30 percent of participants discontinued their use of anti-anxiety medications within two-months of initiating cannabis therapy, and that 45 percent did so by six-months. “Patients initiated on medical cannabis therapy showed significant benzodiazepine discontinuation rates after their first follow-up visit to their medical cannabis prescriber, and continued to show significant discontinuation rates thereafter,” authors concluded.

In the second study, investigators at the University of Michigan surveyed over 1,300 state-registered medical cannabis patients with regard to their use of opioids and benzodiazepines. They reported that 53 percent of respondents acknowledged substituting marijuana for opioids, and 22 percent did so for benzodiazepines.

These findings are consistent with numerous other papers — such as those here, here, here, and here — documenting patients’ use of cannabis in place of a variety of prescription drugs, particularly opioids and anti-anxiety medications.

Full text of the study, “Reduction of benzodiazepine use in patients prescribed medical cannabis,” appears in the journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research here.

An abstract of the study, “Pills to pot: Observational analyses of cannabis substitution among medical cannabis users with chronic pain,” appears in The Journal of Pain here.

Additional information is available in NORML’s fact-sheet, “Relationship between marijuana and opioids,” here.

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