A significant number of cannabis patients discontinue use of benzodiazepines

A new study has found that many patients stop using benzodiazepine after receiving medical cannabis. The findings have been published in the journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research.

“I was interested in this project because it presented an opportunity to address benzodiazepines and cannabis use, both of which are becoming increasingly socially relevant. Benzodiazepines can be effective in treating many medical conditions but unlike opioids, there seems to be little public awareness of the risks associated with these commonly used prescription medications,” said study author Chad Purcell, a medical student at Dalhousie University.

Benzodiazepines are a class of medications used to treat conditions such as anxiety and insomnia. They include Alprazolam (Xanax, Niravam) diazepam (Valium), clonazepam (Klonopin), lorazepam (Ativan) and others.

“Having previously worked as a pharmacist, I observed first-hand how benzodiazepines affected the lives of my patients. I became familiar with the adverse effects of these medications that include dependency, falls and increased sedation — especially when used in combination with other medications,” Purcell explained.

“I was excited to investigate the potential mitigation of these risks. With the legalization of cannabis in Canada, Canadian researchers are uniquely positioned to contribute to the developing body literature on the drug. I wanted to take this opportunity to help further understand of the potential uses and harms of cannabis.”

The researchers observed significant benzodiazepine discontinuation rates in 146 medical cannabis patients, who were all regularly consuming benzodiazepines at the beginning of the study. Approximately 45 percent of patients had stopped taking benzodiazepine medication within about six months of beginning medical cannabis.

Many patients also reported decreased daily distress due to medical conditions after being prescribed cannabis.

“We observed a significant number of patients who stopped taking their benzodiazepine medications once started on medical cannabis. We hope that future research will explain this observation and provide recommendations for patients who use benzodiazepines and/or cannabis,” Purcell told PsyPost.

But there are still many unanswered questions about the relationship between cannabis use and benzodiazepine discontinuation.

“The study design precludes our ability to reliably state that the discontinuation of benzodiazepines was caused by initiating medical cannabis. We can simply state that this association was observed. We are also not able to suggest a possible physiological mechanism to explain this association,” Purcell said.

“We did not have access to information on cannabis strains, growth and producers and are unable to generalize these results to products that are currently commercially available in Canada. We do not suggest that cannabis can or should be used as a substitute or addition to medically indicated and prescribed benzodiazepines.”

The study, “Reduction of Benzodiazepine Use in Patients Prescribed Medical Cannabis“, was authored by Chad Purcell, Andrew Davis, Nico Moolman, and S. Mark Taylor.