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Cannabis may be the gateway out of drug addiction

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Cannabis may be the gateway out of drug addiction

New research has found that daily users of crystal methamphetamine who turned to cannabis to manage their cravings used the stimulant drug less, especially female users. The findings suggest a new harm-reduction strategy is needed for people who use illicit drugs.

There are dissenting opinions among researchers about whether cannabis is a ‘gateway drug’ that leads people to use other, more dangerous drugs. New research by the University of British Columbia (UBC), Canada, examined whether using cannabis to manage cravings changed a person’s use of illicit stimulants.

“Our findings are not conclusive but do add to the growing scientific evidence that cannabis might be a beneficial tool for some people who want to better control their unregulated stimulant use, particularly for people who use crystal meth,” said Hudson Reddon, lead and corresponding author of the study.

The phrase ‘unregulated drugs’ includes medication that has been manufactured legally but diverted from legitimate sales routes, as well as the illicit manufacture and sale of drugs such as crystal methamphetamine, cocaine, and heroin.

The researchers recruited 297 adult users of unregulated drugs who’d reported cannabis and stimulant use in the preceding six months. The median age of participants was 44 years; 31.3% were female. Almost half (48.8%) self-reported daily cannabis use, and 45.1% reported using cannabis to manage stimulant cravings. Other common harm reduction or therapeutic motives for cannabis use included managing craving for unregulated opioids (25.6%) and managing pain (17.8%). The most popular method of cannabis administration was smoking (97.3%), followed by consuming edibles (43.8%) and concentrates (21.9%).

Cannabis use to manage stimulant cravings and daily cannabis use was significantly associated with reduced stimulant use during the period of cannabis use. Cannabis used to manage cravings was significantly associated with reduced use in those who used crystal meth daily but not associated with a reduction in crack cocaine use. Females were significantly more likely to report decreased crystal meth use during periods of cannabis use.

“This suggests a new direction for harm reduction strategies among people who use drugs,” Reddon said.

However, the study’s findings warrant further investigation, especially because of the absence of established pharmacotherapies for the treatment of stimulant use disorders.

“While these findings are promising, they underscore the need for more comprehensive studies to understand the full potential of cannabis in the context of the overdose crisis,” said Zach Walsh, a study co-author.

In 2022, the reputable medical journal The Lancet reported that over the past two decades, nearly 600,000 people have died from an opioid overdose in the US and Canada. While it’s estimated that, by 2029, 1.2 million could die in these two countries alone, the opioid crisis is being felt worldwide.

The study was published in the journal Addictive Behaviors.

Source: UBC

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