Benzodiazepine Cessation Linked To Cannabis Therapy

Written by Lydia Kariuki

About 10% of adults in North America have used benzodiazepines to treat one condition or the other. [1] Benzos, as they are often called, come in many forms including: diazepam, lorazepam, clonazepam, or tranxene. Commonly, they are used for managing insomnia, anxiety, depression, or even nausea and vomiting. They are also used to treat muscle spasticity. Compared to barbiturates, they are relatively safer. However, they have also been associated with a myriad of adverse effects such as dizziness, fatigue, slowed reaction, ataxia, and muscle weakness. [2]They also have a high potential for overdose, dependence, or addiction if used over extended periods of time. Consequently, they need to be used judiciously.

Medicinal cannabis has also shown significant potential in the treatment of anxiety and depression. Consequently, some patients are preferring to use cannabis as a substitute or complimentary treatment for some of the conditions mentioned above.

Can cannabis offer a safer and effective substitute to benzodiazepines?

A recent observational study investigated benzodiazepine use in patients who were simultaneously using medicinal cannabis. [3]

The study took a retrospective approach with a cohort of 146 patients receiving medicinal cannabis treatment as well as benzodiazepines. The mean age of the patients was 46 years with 61% females and the rest males. 54% of the patients included had used cannabis as a treatment prior to the study.

The data was collected from a database from a cannabis clinic- Canabo Medical and descriptive statistics was used to quantify the data.

Information was self-reported and collected at each clinic visit. Follow-up visits were timed after every two months. The data was collected from January to October 2016.

Initially 884 patients using benzos were identified for the study but 677 patients were later excluded because they did not have sufficient information. Out of the remaining 207 patients, only 70.5% completed the nine month study duration and were therefore eligible.

There were no obvious differences between those who discontinued benzodiazepine use and those who did not. 97.6% of the patients were not using any other recreational drugs.

The data revealed that 30% of the patients who were started on cannabis stopped using benzodiazepines within 3 months. After another two months, the number percentage had increased to 44.5%, and increased to a further 45.2% at the sixth month. In total, 66 of the patients were able to discontinue benzos and appeared to be stable.

Almost 50% of the patients who were started on medicinal cannabis stopped using benzos six months into the treatment. [3]

This warrants further investigation into the safety and effectiveness of medical cannabis as relates to benzodiazepine use.

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  1. Pollmann, A. S., Murphy, A. L., Bergman, J. C., & Gardner, D. M. (2015). Deprescribing benzodiazepines and Z-drugs in community-dwelling adults: a scoping review. BMC pharmacology & toxicology16, 19. Journal Impact Factor: 1.7771, Times Cited: 26
  2. Lader M. (2011). Benzodiazepines revisited–will we ever learn?. Addiction (Abingdon, England)106(12), 2086–2109. Journal Impact Factor: 6.34, Times Cited: 102
  3. Purcell, C., Davis, A., Moolman, N., & Taylor, S. M. (2019). Reduction of Benzodiazepine Use in Patients Prescribed Medical Cannabis. Cannabis and cannabinoid research4(3), 214–218. Journal Impact Factor: 3.0, Times Cited: 3

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Lydia Kariuki

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