Patients replacing prescription drugs with cannabis, updated Canadian study says

Philippe Lucas, study lead and VP at Tilray, will present the findings of the updated study at next weekend’s Lift Expo

An exciting landmark study released in February 2017 showed that when given the choice, patients reach for cannabis rather than prescribed opioids. The study is being updated in time for the 2017 Lift Expo, where Tilray vice president of patient research and study lead Philippe Lucas will present it.

The first version of the study was conducted in 2015, and found that a significant 63 percent of respondents—about 250 patients who were all prescribed medical marijuana legally—substituted cannabis for prescribed drugs.

The 2015 study, which was published in the International Journal of Drug Policy, was the “first peer reviewed publication to come out of LP-gathered and generated data.” According to Lucas, the study marks “the first time that there’s been a survey of only federally-authorized medical cannabis patients like this under the MMPR and ACMPR.”

“What we found was that the survey respondents were male, Caucasian, single and disabled, and had lower income than the general Canadian population. We asked two separate questions: what’s your primary illness for which you have a cannabis recommendation, and what symptoms are you currently using medical marijuana to treat. Just as we’d expect, pain-related conditions were common.” Mental illness, chronic pain, and gastrointestinal symptoms were also commonly reported.

Besides establishing a demographic composite of the patient base under the MMPR and ACMPR, the study looked deeper and found that there was a substitution effect, in that patients were substituting cannabis for their other medications.

“We found that in terms of class of medications, the primary substitution reported by 32% was for opioids, followed by benzodiazepines at 16% and antidepressants at 12%. Opioids, of course, match up with the high percentage of chronic pain in the study. With the high rate of opioid use and overdoses plaguing North America, this demonstrates that cannabis can play a harm reduction role by reducing the use of opioids.”

About the substitution effect, “what was really fascinating,” Lucas told Lift News, “was that we saw a 25% reduction in alcohol. But the one that really jumped out was that 12% reported substituting for tobacco and nicotine and 3% for illicit substances.” This, Lucas says, indicates that cannabis could be a harm reduction tool. And rather than being a gateway drug, for many patients, it’s an exit drug, and potentially a safer substitute for pharmaceuticals and other substances.

Now, the study is being updated—big league. The study team the survey again with some modifications, and Lucas told Lift News that he is excited to bring the updated study to next weekend’s Lift Expo in Toronto.

“What I’m going to be presenting in Toronto—the meat of my event—will be the 2017 version of the research. The number of respondents jumps from about 271 for 2015 to 2,032—by far the biggest survey of authorized medical cannabis users that’s been done in Canada. The data in that is exciting.” The 2017 study delves deeper to see just how often patients are substituting cannabis for other substances.

According to Lucas, the 2017 study will be submitted for publication in Summer 2017.

Philippe Lucas will be speaking at the Lift Expo in Toronto, presenting on Saturday May 27th at 3PM. Speaking on behalf of the Lift News team, we can honestly say that we’re looking forward to the talk.


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