Weed Gets You Off Speed. The Surprising Role of Cannabis.

Substance use disorders remain a major public health concern globally. Recent statistics indicate over 30 million people suffer from drug use disorders, with stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine being widely used.

Managing stimulant addiction has been notoriously difficult given the lack of medications to alleviate cravings and withdrawal symptoms. However, emerging research now shows medical cannabis could be an effective aid for reducing stimulant use when used to control cravings.

Conducted by a team of addiction experts across multiple cohorts in Vancouver, the study provides compelling early evidence showing cannabis helped participants cut down on stimulants.

An Innovative New Research Approach on Cannabis for Cravings

Previous lab experiments and population data have suggested cannabinoids could potentially substitute for stimulants. However, research specifically testing this was lacking. To address this evidence gap, the Vancouver team conducted an innovative study among people already using cannabis and stimulants.

They analyzed data from long-running cohorts involving marginalized people who use street drugs in the city. The participants were people accessing various support services who volunteered for ongoing substance use research. Three cohorts were assessed, involving youth (14-26 years) and adults (over 18 years) of varying ages.

Across the groups, 297 participants currently used both cannabis and stimulants. They completed questionnaires on motives for cannabis use and changes in stimulant use while using cannabis. This provided direct self-reported data on using cannabis for cravings and impacts on stimulant use.

Cannabis for Cravings Reduces Stimulant Use

The central finding was that using cannabis to intentionally manage stimulant cravings was strongly linked with cutting down stimulant use. Out of 297 cannabis and stimulant users, 134 (45.1%) reported using cannabis for this purpose. Among this sub-group, the vast majority (77.6%) stated when they used cannabis for cravings, they decreased how much stimulants they consumed.

These results were further analyzed using regression models accounting for various social and demographic factors.

After adjustments, using cannabis for cravings remained significantly associated with lowered stimulant use.

Those using cannabis to control cravings had 76% lower odds of maintaining or increasing their stimulant use compared to others.

Parsing the Effects of Cannabis on Methamphetamine and Cocaine

Given the street drug landscape differs across substances, the researchers specifically analyzed effects between crystal methamphetamine and crack cocaine users. Methamphetamine use has been rising substantially in Vancouver and overlaps more with fentanyl-tainted drugs.

Notably, managing cravings with cannabis had different outcomes between primary methamphetamine users versus primary cocaine users.

For those using methamphetamine daily, using cannabis for cravings showed a very strong link with lowering methamphetamine consumption. Their odds of reducing use were 92% higher when using cannabis for cravings.

However, for daily cocaine users, the association was no longer significant statistically. While cannabis still showed a trend for lowered cocaine use, the evidence was weaker and could be down to chance. More research is needed examining cannabis effects between stimulant types.

Assessing the Public Health Implications of Cannabis Substitution

These results provide compelling early human data that cannabis could be effectively used as a substitute to help dependent stimulant users reduce consumption.

Close to half of co-users of cannabis and stimulants already employ this method to control cravings and cut down stimulant use.

For crystal methamphetamine in particular, managing cravings with cannabis had a very strong link for lowering use. This could have meaningful public health impacts given rising methamphetamine numbers and overlapping opioid contamination driving overdoses.

Cannabis substitution could provide an accessible, scalable aid for reducing methamphetamine harms if these early findings are supported.

However, some nuances remain before declaring cannabis a game-changer for managing stimulant disorders. Effects seem specific to methamphetamine users thus far, with weaker evidence for crack cocaine substitution.

The researchers highlight further mechanisms research should continue examining differences between stimulant classes.

Additionally, while this study captured self-reported experiences using cannabis for cravings, more controlled trials are warranted.

Open questions persist around optimal strains, dosing, administration routes and head-to-head comparisons for treating stimulant use disorders. But these latest results set the stage for prioritizing and funding more conclusive substitution research with cannabis.

Tapping Into Cannabis Medicine’s Promise for Addiction Recovery

In closing, these recent findings, which may not come us a surprise to many ravers, nevertheless make an exciting contribution towards unlocking the promise of cannabis-based medications.

Using cannabis to manage cravings could provide a lifeline for many struggling with stimulant addiction given the lack of replacement therapies. The impacts could stretch across North America’s urban settings where methamphetamine and fentanyl overlap remains high.

But importantly, these discoveries also underscore why cannabis research deserves far greater levels of funding and scientific inquiry. We have only scratched the surface of understanding cannabis’ medicinal properties to tackle addiction, pain, mental health conditions and beyond.

With relaxed prohibition now enabling proper research, the time is now to invest deeply into elucidating cannabis medicine’s full potential to advance global health and social equity.

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