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Benzodiazepine Use Drops 45% With Medical Marijuana

Benzodiazepines and medical marijuana

Millions of Americans suffer from anxiety disorders and other conditions that are commonly treated through the prescription use of  benzodiazepines. Some of the most common drugs in this category include Xanax, Ativan, and Valium. As with most all medications, there are pros and cons to these drugs, and in many cases, the downsides of continued use may outweigh the benefits.

Fortunately, a new study suggests there may be a viable alternative to benzodiazepines that offers similar relief with far less side-effects:

Medical marijuana.

The Problem With Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines are a class of drugs that are prescribed for anxiety relief, muscle relaxation, insomnia, seizures, and alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Some of the most common drugs in this category include Xanax, Ativan and Valium. These drugs enhance the action of the neurotransmitter GABA, and have a psychoactive component that can affect emotional reactions, memory, thinking, control of consciousness, muscle tone and coordination.

According to a recent study, benzodiazepine use is on the rise in the United States, with more than 30.6 million adults reporting past-year use. Additionally, the study notes that:

  • Adults ages 50–64 had the highest prescribed use
  • Benzodiazepine use was nearly twice as prevalent in women as men
  • Those ages 18–25 had the highest misuse
  • Adults ages ≥50 were more likely  to use a benzodiazepine more often than prescribed

These drugs are typically intended for relatively short-period use (four months or less), as long term use has been shown to create physical and psychological addictions and severe withdrawal symptoms. Yet despite these concerns, studies indicate that a significant number of users are prescribed benzodiazepines for long-term use. The proportion of long-term benzodiazepine use increased with age from 14.7% (18-35 years) to 31.4% (65-80 years).

Among the reported issues and risks associated with long-term use are:

  • Cognitive impairment: Benzodiazepines cause acute adverse effects including drowsiness, increased reaction time, ataxia, motor incoordination and anterograde amnesia.
  • Motor vehicle crashes: The risk of driving while on benzodiazepines is about the same as the risk of driving with a blood alcohol level between 0.050% and 0.079%.
  • Hip fracture: Benzodiazepines increase the risk of hip fracture in older persons by at least 50%.

Additionally, a meta-analysis of studies looking at withdrawal from an average of 17mg per day of diazepam (Valium) found that long-term use led to substantial cognitive decline that did not resolve three months after discontinuation. Other issues associated with benzodiazepine withdrawal include sleep disturbances and rebound insomnia, restlessness, irritability, elevated anxiety, blurred vision, panic attacks and tremors.

Benzodiazepines may also exacerbate opioid abuse. According to a study of Canadians who died of an opioid-related cause, benzodiazepine consumption significantly increased the risk of opioid overdose.

Clearly, long-term use of these drugs is not considered a good thing. And yet, JAMA Psychiatry reports that:

Despite cautions concerning risks associated with long-term benzodiazepine use, especially in older patients, long-term benzodiazepine use remains common in this age group.

Marijuana May be a Natural Alternative

Because there is an increasing body of evidence to suggest that medical marijuana may be beneficial in the treatment of anxiety disorders, muscle relaxation and essential tremors, it seems logical to infer that medical cannabis might provide a natural alternative to the use of  benzodiazepines. There is a considerable body of anecdotal evidence to support this assumption, and a new study published in January 2019 by Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research adds more objective facts that support the potential benefits of medical marijuana as an alternative to benzodiazepines.

The report looked at 146 medical marijuana patients who were taking some form of benzodiazepine at the beginning of the study. The mean age of participants was 47.7 years with a standard deviation of 12.7 years. Prior use of marijuana was self-reported by 54% of patients. A total of 97.6% of patients were not currently using other recreational drugs and 73.3% had never used recreational drugs that were not cannabis. Concurrent alcohol and cigarette use was reported in 41.4% and 30.8% of patients, respectively.  Reported primary conditions driving cannabinoid treatment were grouped into neurological (7.5%), pain (47.9%), psychiatric conditions (31.9%), and other (12.7%). Descriptive statistics were used to quantify associations of the proportion of benzodiazepine use with time on medical marijuana therapy.

Results of the study showed that:

After completing an average two-month prescription course of medical marijuana, 30.1% of patients had discontinued benzodiazepines.

At a follow-up after two prescriptions, 65 total patients (44.5%) had discontinued benzodiazepines.

At the final follow-up period after three medical marijuana prescription courses, 66 total patients (45.2%) had discontinued benzodiazepine use, showing a stable cessation rate over an average of 6 months.

Additionally, it was reported that:

These patients, following prescription cannabis use, also reported decreased daily distress due to medical conditions.

In simpler terms, more than four in 10 patients who began the study taking an ongoing dosage of benzodiazepines were able to discontinue the medication within six months of adding medical marijuana to their treatment regime. This prompted the authors of the study to postulate that:

This observation merits further investigation into the risks and benefits of the therapeutic use of medical cannabis and its role relating to benzodiazepine use.

(Interestingly, the study found no significant difference in the proportions of CBD and THC in the cannabis used by patients who continued and those who discontinued benzodiazepines.)

So, does medical marijuana represent a viable alternative to benzodiazepines? Researchers with Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research seem to believe so:

Medical cannabis remains a controversial but potentially effective treatment for patients suffering from a variety of medical conditions. Within a cohort of patients initiated on medical cannabis therapy, a large proportion successfully discontinued their pre-existing benzodiazepine therapy.

This study therefore supports the continued research of medical cannabis and urges further exploration into its therapeutic value.

How to Qualify for Medical Marijuana

If you currently suffer from anxiety, CannaMD is here to help! Find out if you qualify for medical marijuana treatment today by completing a quick application or calling 1 (855) 420-9170.

Wondering how the whole process works from start to finish? Download our free e-book: Medical Marijuana Basics.

We’re committed to providing compassionate care to Florida residents and are here to help whenever you need us!

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12 Comments

  1. This!!! This is the reason I got my MMC. I want to get OFF the benzo I’ve been taking for the last 10+ years. I’ve been using a 50/50 low THC 1:1 hybrid vape and it’s worked out pretty well so far. I’ve been able to cut my morning and evening pill in half, so far with no negative withdraw symptoms and hope to be completely free of them within the next 6 months.

    1. That’s incredible to hear, we’re so happy for you!! Thanks for sharing! Wishing continued health and wellness over the next six months! 🙂

    2. I am so desperate to get off of Ativan! I’ve been in it for over 12 years. The physical and emotional/mental pain of trying to cut down my dose is more than I can take. Are there any strains of medical cannabis that can help me? I’m desperate to get off Benzos!! Is there any new info at this time?

      1. Hi Dawn! Are you currently a CannaMD patient? Give us a call at (855) 420-9170 and our physicians can answer your questions in more detail! 🙂

  2. I have been on cannibas for approx 6 months and already I have been smoke free for 5months and cut my opioid med in 1/2_AWESOME. Smoked 40 years

  3. THAT IS GREAT NEWS!!!!

    I WOULD LIKE TO SEE WHAT TYPE OF MARIJUANA THESE PEOPLE WERE CONSUMING TO HELP THEM GET OFF OF THE BENZO”S????????

    WAS IT INDICA, WHAT KIND? WHAT IS HYBRID WHAT KIND???? WAS IT SUSTIVA, WHAT KIND??????

    I GUESS I WOULD LIKE TO SEE IN A STUDY WHAT KIND OF PHARMACEUTICALS PEOPLE ARE TAKING, AND THEN WHAT KIND OF CANNABIS PRODUCT THEY USE TO OBTAIN THESE WONDERFUL EFFECTS.

    WHAT STRAINS ARE GOOD FOR INSOMNIA, DEPRESSION, STRESS, ANXIETY, CHRONIC PAIN ETC……

    1. Hi, Greg! Scientists still have a lot to uncover, but we do have some more details regarding THC/CBD ratios in another one of our anxiety posts, available here 🙂 The full benzo study is available here (although it doesn’t address specific strains). Will keep you posted as more studies come out!!

  4. I am too far from your office to be a patient. Will you open one in Flagler County? Great website. I have been on 20mg of Lexapro for 9 months. .75 of Ativan 2 times a day for 9 months. I have a Medical Marijuana Card. I have anxiety/ insomnia/ depression for 14 months. I want to reduce my medications. I see so many success stories. I tried 6 products at Trulieve. All gave me more anxiety. I don’t want to give up. Do you have any suggestions? Thanks.

  5. I am no longer on any benzodiazepines due to the fact that I had to switch doctors (not my choice). The new doctor I have doesn’t want anything to do with benzodiazepines. He prefers “natural methods” for easing anxiety – like Yoga. I tried everything in the past including Yoga) but it didn’t work. I never touched Marijuana until it became legal (I’m in Canada). I won’t smoke it but I found out that these Softgels were released (a lot cheaper than CBD Oil; I bought the CBD Oil but found it ineffective, it did NOTHING for my anxiety – the CBD Oil that the store sells is ineffective according to reviews I have read so it’s not just me).

    I tried various Softgels (Bakerstreet which is an Indica strain but is 100% THC and I think is the worst one since I found I was unable to move and couldn’t fall asleep either; I tried Penelope Softgels which are a Hybrid of both Indica and Sativa and they had 2.50 mg THC and 1.75 mg CBD and found that Penelope Softgels eased my anxiety so I wouldn’t freak out when I saw insects and was even able to read/talk about things that I refuse to read/talk about because these things freak me out and I’m too ashamed to admit it but I have no problem looking up information/talking about the item that freaks me out when I take Penelope Softgels; I also found that Argyle Softgels which are an Indica strain to be effective in treating my anxiety, these Softgels have 2.50 mg THC and 3.00 mg CBD, I find I can handle things that make me anxious without any problems when I take Argyle Softgels).

    Unfortunately, I have to take seven Argyle Softgels to feel relaxed (17.5 mg or THC and 21.0 mg CBD). But, given that I can’t get anything prescribed for anxiety now (and can’t get another doctor since I can’t drive and to get a taxi to a clinic where a doctor is taking new patients is too expensive – it would cost more to get a taxi to and from the clinic than it costs to buy the Softgels) I am grateful to have discovered the Argyle Softgels. I discovered these before I had to get a new doctor so I had time to try them and discovered which Softgel works best.

    The only issue I have is that I somehow built a “tolerance” a few weeks ago – I was unable to look up or deal with anything that I’m afraid of even after taking the Argyle Softgels. I abstained from taking them for almost two weeks and yesterday I took them and they worked again. I have enough left over for another dose so I’m considering taking them on Wednesday because of something I have to do that involves anxiety.

    1. So happy to hear medical cannabis has helped! Wishing you the best and hoping that your anxiety continues to improve!

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