Victoria, Canada: Patients who possess legal access to cannabis frequently substitute it in place of alcohol and prescription drugs, according to survey data published online in the journal Drug and Alcohol Review.
Investigators from the University of Victoria in British Columbia assessed the influence of medical marijuana access on other drug-taking behaviors in a cohort of 473 Canadian adults licensed to engage in cannabis therapy.
"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.
Substitution rates were highest among respondents between the ages of 18 and 40. Pain patients were most likely to use cannabis as a substitute for prescription drugs.
Authors concluded, "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."
Evaluations of subjects enrolled in state-specific medical marijuana programs, including those in Arizona, California, and Rhode Island, yield similar results – finding that patients are particularly likely to substitute cannabis for opioids. According to a recently published National Bureau of Economic Research report, states that permit qualified patients to access medical marijuana via dispensaries possess lower rates of opioid addiction and overdose deaths as compared to states that do not.
A previously published paper in the journal Addiction Research and Theory concluded, "[A] growing body of research on cannabis-related substitution suggests that for many patients cannabis is not only an effective medicine, but also a potential exit drug to problematic substance use."
For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director, at (202) 483-5500. Full text of the study, "Substituting cannabis for prescription drugs, alcohol and other substances among medical cannabis patients: The impact of contextual factors," appears in Drug and Alcohol Review.