Cannabis as harm reduction? Study shows patients who drink alcohol drink less alcohol

Would you smoke cannabis if it meant you could use less alcohol, tobacco, or prescription drugs? A recent study examining a group of patients adds more convincing evidence that marijuana is a “go out“Drug rather than introductory drug.

Published in the International Journal of Drug Policy, study compared the survey results of 973 patients who answered questions about how they used alcohol before and after receiving medical cannabis authorizations from their doctors. Of these, 44% said they drank less frequently on a monthly basis, 34% consumed fewer standard drinks per week and 8% said they had not drunk any alcohol in the 30 days preceding the survey.

Study data is derived from the Canadian Cannabis Patient Survey 2019, a survey of patients registered with a licensed producer. Tilray, and led by the company’s vice president for research and patient access and researcher at the University of Victoria, Philippe Lucas.

More success with intention

Lucas says the most interesting finding from the study was that when patients deliberately intended to use medical cannabis to reduce their alcohol consumption, their chances of drinking less or quitting drinking altogether were considerably higher. high.

“About 13% of participants said they had deliberately used medical cannabis to reduce their alcohol consumption. Conversely, less than one percent worked with their doctor to do it, ”says Lucas.

This points to “both a gap and an opportunity” for a public health campaign aimed at physicians and medical cannabis patients, he says, which highlights this common but often unintended benefit of cannabis use: one patient may start using cannabis to treat chronic pain. or anxiety and find themselves unexpectedly inclined to consume less of society’s preferred liquid carcinogen.

“If there was an overwhelming awareness on both sides of this equation, I think we would see the harm reduction aspects and the substitution effects be even more important,” he says.

And it’s not just alcohol consumption that can be reduced. Many patients also reduce their use of prescription opioids, tobacco and illicit substances when they incorporate medical cannabis into their treatment regimen, he says.

“For those affected by problematic substance use, a growing body of research suggests that whether your addiction is to alcohol or tobacco, prescription opioids or illicit opioids, it can be helpful, either by as stand-alone treatment or as an adjunct to reduce or stop the use of these substances.

A safer option

But is it really good if a patient is simply trading one substance for another? Lucas and others in the field agree that it’s not that simple, especially given the mountains of existing evidence that show that our favorite vice, alcohol, is in fact. the The most dangerous.

“Although cannabis carries a low risk of addiction, it is much lower in the risk of addiction and the associated morbidity and mortality than alcohol,” he says.

Globally, alcohol consumption is a main risk factor for the disease and accounts for nearly 10 percent of deaths worldwide among people aged 15 to 49. Almost three million deaths per year, or five percent of annual deaths worldwide, are related to alcohol, according to the World Health Organization.

Let’s not forget the link between alcohol and cancer, which is believed to kill over 605,000 Americans in 2020. The risk of colorectal and breast cancer increases by 50% in people who drink excessively, with research showing even a drink a day may increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer.

“Although I am the last person to suggest that cannabis is completely safe, or the right medicine for all patients under all circumstances, some populations will be more vulnerable when it comes to cannabis use, for some patients as well. as non-medical users, it is not a gateway but rather a drug exit to problematic substance use, ”says Lucas.

Flip the script

The Canadian researcher has been studying cannabis as a substitute for other substances for several years and discovered the concept 20 years ago when he opened the Vancouver Island Compassion Society in 1999.

“Patients would tell me that when they smoked a joint or ate a cannabis cookie, they wouldn’t want to go out and get heroin or crystal meth,” he says. “It really turned the scenario around for me because until then our governments and our public health and education systems called cannabis a gateway drug.”

Now that there is strong evidence to support it, federal agencies north of the border are starting to pay attention. Lucas has been invited to present data to Health Canada, Veterans Affairs, Senate special committees and the House of Commons.

Since alcohol is the most harmful psychoactive substance used in the world and has far greater impacts on individual and public health than cannabis, he says, switching from the first to the second could dramatically improve performance. public health and safety.

“In states in the United States that have legalized the medical and non-medical use of cannabis, research has found associated reductions in alcohol use. fatal car accidents, violent crimes, homicides, and even suicidesbecause all of these are associated with alcohol consumption, but not cannabis use.

Lucas is currently working on follow-up studies that take a closer look at how cannabis affects patients’ opioid and tobacco use.

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About Perry Perrie

Perry Perrie

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