Marijuana Users Substitute Pot In Place Of More Dangerous Substances, Study Says

Berkeley, CA:  Cannabis is often substituted in place of the use of other illicit drugs, alcohol, or prescription medications, according to survey data published in the Harm Reduction Journal.

Investigator Amanda Reiman of the University of California, Berkeley School of Social Welfare, surveyed 350 members of the Berkeley Patients Group, a city-licensed medical marijuana dispensary. Seventy-one percent of those surveyed reported suffering from a chronic medical condition, 52 percent reported using cannabis for pain relief, and 75 percent reported using cannabis for a mental health-related issue.  Respondents ranged from age 18 to 81.

The study found that 66 percent of respondents said that they used cannabis as a replacement for prescription drugs, and 57 percent said that marijuana provided better relief for their symptoms than conventional medications. Forty percent of respondents said that they used marijuana as a substitute for alcohol. Twenty-six percent said that they used marijuana to replace their former use of more potent illegal drugs.

Of those who reported using pot in place of alcohol, 65 percent said that they did so because it has less adverse side effects than alcohol. The study concludes: The substitution of one psychoactive substance for another with the goal of reducing negative outcomes can be included within the framework of harm reduction.  Medical cannabis patients have been engaging in substitution by using cannabis as an alternative to alcohol, prescription, and illicit drugs.

Survey data published online in September in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence reported that marijuana abstention is associated with an increase in alcohol use among both infrequent and heavy drinkers.

Commenting on the most recent survey results, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano, co-author of the book Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink, said: “Rather than being a so-called gateway drug, marijuana is a terminus that enables users to reduce or eliminate their use of more harmful substances, including other illicit drugs, certain prescription medications, and especially alcohol.  It makes little sense for our laws to criminalize the use and possession of the less harmful substance.”

For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre, Executive Director of NORML, at (202) 483-5500, or Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director, at: Full text of the study, ‘Cannabis as a substitute for alcohol and other drugs’ appears online on the website of the Harm Reduction Journal.