Study: Cannabis Is A “Potential Exit Drug To Problematic Substance Use”

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director December 20, 2012

    Three quarters of medical cannabis consumers report using it as a substitute for prescription drugs, alcohol, or some other illicit substance, according to survey data published in the journal Addiction Research and Theory.

    An international team of investigators from Canada and the United States assessed the subjective impact of marijuana on the use of licit and illicit substances via self-report in a cohort of 404 medical cannabis patients recruited from four dispensaries in British Columbia, Canada.

    Researchers reported that subjects frequently substituted cannabis for other substances, including conventional pharmaceuticals. Authors reported:

    “Over 41 percent state that they use cannabis as a substitute for alcohol (n=158), 36.1 percent use cannabis as a substitute for illicit substances (n=137), and 67.8 percent use cannabis as a substitute for prescription drugs (n=259). The three main reasons cited for cannabis-related substitution are ‘less withdrawal’ (67.7 percent), ‘fewer side-effects’ (60.4 percent), and ‘better symptom management’ suggesting that many patients may have already identified cannabis as an effective and potentially safer adjunct or alternative to their prescription drug regimen.”

    Overall, 75.5 percent (n=305) of respondents said that they substitute cannabis for at least one other substance. Men were more likely than women to report substituting cannabis for alcohol or illicit drugs.

    Authors concluded: “While some studies have found that a small percentage of the general population that uses cannabis may develop a dependence on this substance, 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. Given the credible biological, social and psychological mechanisms behind these results, and the associated potential to decrease personal suffering and the personal and social costs associated with addiction, further research appears to be justified on both economic and ethical grounds. Clinical trials with those who have had poor outcomes with conventional psychological or pharmacological addiction therapies could be a good starting point to further our under- standing of cannabis-based substitution effect.”

    Previous studies have similarly demonstrated cannabis’ potential efficacy as an exit drug. A 2010 study published in the Harm Reduction Journal reported that cannabis-using adults enrolled in substance abuse treatment programs fared equally or better than nonusers in various outcome categories, including treatment completion. A 2009 study reported that 40 percent of subjects attending a California medical cannabis dispensary reported using marijuana as a substitute for alcohol, and 26 percent used it to replace their former use of more potent illegal drugs. A separate 2009 study published in the American Journal on Addictions reported that moderate cannabis use and improved retention in naltrexone treatment among opiate-dependent subjects in a New York state inpatient detoxification program.

    Full text of the study, “Cannabis as a substitute for alcohol and other drugs: A dispensary-based survey of substitution effect in Canadian medical cannabis patients,” appears online in Addiction Research and Theory. NORML Advisory Board Member Mitch Earleywine is a co-author of this study.

    46 responses to “Study: Cannabis Is A “Potential Exit Drug To Problematic Substance Use””

    1. R. Small says:

      If it were legal for me to use I would use it. I have a degenerative spine and have fake discs and steel rods.I have constant pain and take muscle relaxers and pain meds wich have bad side effects in the long run.I want the right to use it medicaly!

    2. Nancy Newhall says:

      Having had my three sons sadly addicted to heroin the using of cannabis had really helped with the anxieties and withdrawal symptoms of this terrible drug. Of all the drugs that are offered to them in their trying to stay off heroin, Suboxone and cannabis have given two of them control of their addictions. The third is in the court system and cannot use either of these helping hands.

    3. Ben says:

      here, I wasn’t sure where to post this-
      – I vote that this woman gets ordered to 20 years of Victim Impact Panels, chemical dependency and alcohol drug classes-
      WITH frequent required random UAs and all the crap she made these people endure!

      “Estimates have ranged from 34,000 to 136,000 cases that were prosecuted during her career.”

      “Dookhan also allegedly tainted samples by mixing substances she knew were illegal drugs with samples she knew did not contain illegal substances.”


      to NORML
      hopefully we will win this stupid war shortly,
      but, if it drags on,
      I would ask that maybe you add a forum section
      with just a couple spots for discussion…

      this might benefit those of us in:
      “Eastern Massachusetts, including Suffolk, Plymouth, Middlesex, Norfolk, Essex, and Bristol”


    4. Galileo Galilei says:

      These folks have the sense to use (not abuse) marijuana. Even if they don’t quit drugs, they’re using a less destructive substance. Sounds like a science based approach. I like it better than the ONDCP cruelty strategy.

      “further research appears to be justified on both economic and ethical grounds.”

      –To thwart the advance of medical science is a crime against us all.

    5. Galileo Galilei says:

      “Previous studies have similarly demonstrated cannabis’ potential efficacy as an exit drug.”

      Reproducible Science! This could change everything!!!

      We need to purge the ONDCP of its cruel ideologues and find folks who can execute a strategy based on reason and science.

      And that’s the way it is.

    6. Ed says:

      Although exspensive this way Marijuana also helped me quit smoking cigarettes.

      For me one of the pleasurable sensations of smoking cigarettes was the feeling of the smoke in your mouth,and going down your throat.

      Quiting ciagrettes is also extremely addictive from a mental point of view.

      You smoke when your bored,inspired,thinking,and other things like after your eat,drink,and stupidly enough even when your out of breath!So many mental triggers to deal with when quiting cigarettes.

      The Nicotine is out of your body in 7 days.It’s the next 6 months to a year of mental issues you need to overcome/deal with to really get lose of it’s grip.

      So to be able to actually smoke something that delivers all these things except nicotine was a great help in my case.

      Although you can argue smoking anything is bad I’ll take my chances with medicanal MJ,or my own grown stuff that I know doesnt have 4000+ chemicals.

      And of course there are other ways to consume this amazing plant either way.

      But to the point of the article I feel this is another endorsement to the truth of what this article states.

    7. ben b. says:

      i was a drug addict on Oxycontin and when i decided i wanted to stop after 4 years of intense use i could swear that marijuana helped me get through the withdrawals so much easier and i even have another friend who is getting clean now and is just smoking pot and its really helping him and ive been clean for 6 months now.

    8. Joel: the other Joel says:

      Cannabis Is A “Potential Exit Drug To Problematic Anything”

    9. John Q Public says:

      I unfortunately became physically and mentally addicted to a cocktail of Adderall combined with an SSRI and a Benzodiazepine prescribed by my doctor for many years and I truly know that I could not have detoxed myself from all of these expensive addictive substances without the aid of cannabis.

      It literally is an EXIT drug and it truly saved my life and I’m a much happier and healthier person as a result.

    10. Thomas K. Dennis says:

      I got off 220 Oxys a mo. I was taking 6 other drugs also and stopped them all at the same time cold turkey and never looked back at that sickness.