More Patients Using Cannabis in Place of Anti-Anxiety Drugs, Study Finds

Researchers discovered that nearly half of patients discontinued their use of anti-anxiety meds after starting with medical cannabis.

Findings in a new study published in Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research suggest that cannabis can be used as an effective alternative to traditional anti-anxiety medications.

A team of Canadian researchers assessed the relationship between cannabis and benzodiazepines, a class of drugs that work in the central nervous system and are primarily used for treating anxiety. Common benzodiazepines include Xanax, Ativan, and Valium.

Using a cohort of 146 patients enrolled in Canada’s medical marijuana program, the researchers discovered a large portion of patients had substituted cannabis for their anti-anxiety drugs.

“Patients initiated on medical cannabis therapy showed significant benzodiazepine discontinuation rates after their first follow-up visit to their medical cannabis provider, and continued to show discontinuation rates thereafter,” the study concluded.

Specifically, the cannabis in place of benzodiazepines study found that 30 percent of patients reported discontinuing their use of benzodiazepines within two months of starting medical cannabis treatment. By the six-month check-in with their cannabis doctor, 45 percent of patients stopped anti-anxiety medication use.

The participating patients, once initiating medical marijuana use, also reported decreased daily distress from their medical conditions.

While doctors commonly prescribe benzodiazepines to treating anxiety, the drugs also associated with potentially serious side effects and risks. According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the drug was attributed to over 11,500 fatal overdoses in 2017. Nobody has ever reportedly died of a cannabis overdose.

“The study results are encouraging, and this work is concurrent with growing public interest in a rapidly developing Canadian cannabis market,” said lead author of the cannabis in place of benzodiazepines study, Chad Purcell.

“We are advising the public to observe caution. The results do not suggest that cannabis should be used as an alternative to conventional therapies. Our purpose is inspiring others to advance current cannabis understanding as we collect stronger efficacy and safety data that will lead to responsible policy and recommended practices for use.”

The new cannabis in place of benzodiazepines study, “Reduction of Benzodiazepine Use in Patients Prescribed Medical Cannabis,” is available to access in full for free through the journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research.

Using Cannabis in Place of Prescription Drugs

The findings of the new cannabis for anxiety study are consistent with several other research papers. Research suggests that cannabis’s cannabinoids may mitigate anxiety through their interaction with the body’s endocannabinoid system.

A 2017 study found that prescribing medical cannabis was associated with sharp drop in reliance on benzodiazepine among anxiety and pain patients. Data collected in 2016 found that in Canada, the number of veterans prescribed benzodiazepines decreased with the rise of the nation’s medical marijuana industry.

A growing body of research reveals a shift among patients, who now seem to prefer using cannabis over prescription medications. Numerous studies have also found cannabis effectively reduces the intake of other potentially dangerous prescription drugs, including opioids.

More Cannabis Research

There are a lot of myths about CBD and cannabis, but we’re learning more every day about cannabis and its potential therapeutic uses. Read about what cannabis researchers have already discovered by visiting our education page, and keep up on the latest findings as they’re published on our news page or through our Facebook and Twitter accounts.