Medical marijuana can be used to help treat a wide range of diseases and conditions. From Parkinson’s to cancer to depression, marijuana has been able to help many people increase their quality of life and find a safer, more effective treatment regimen. In some cases, medical marijuana has even been able to help reduce the use of other pharmaceutical drugs, including benzodiazepines, which we will be focusing on in this post. 

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What are Benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines are a class of drugs that act on the GABA receptor in the brain. This receptor is a major part of the brain and central nervous system. GABA itself is a neurotransmitter responsible for sending messages and helping regulate other cell-to-cell communication. Simply put, GABA helps relax the neurons in your brain. For this reason, benzodiazepines target the GABA receptor and enhances it, slowing brain activity. As such, it is known as a depressant. 

There are actually many different chemicals that work on the GABA receptor, one of the most well-known being alcohol. Benzodiazepines in particular were once the most prescribed drugs in the world, due to their wide range of use. They were thought to be effective in treating many things, including anxiety, insomnia, and seizures, and are still used today. Some very common drugs many people are prescribed including Valium and Xanax are benzodiazepines. However, while these drugs are very useful and provide relief for many people, there are important side effects that have recently pushed these drugs into the spotlight. 

What are the Dangers of Benzodiazepines?

To start, benzodiazepines, like all drugs, have the potential to be addictive. Luckily, though, this number is relatively low, with an estimated 1.7% of users having a use disorder [1]. Misuse is also relatively low, with an estimated 2.1% of adults in the U.S. having misused them at least once. Of the most common reasons for misuse being for experimentation and recreational use. 

Benzodiazepines also have several side effects, including memory impairment, weakness, and depression, that can cause further damage to users. Long-term use may also result in physical addiction to the drug. Withdrawals can cause tremors, vomiting, and sweating. For some users, the interactions benzodiazepines produce can be the focal point of their dependence. This can increase the risk of developing respiratory problems, motor skill issues, and even dementia. 

How Can Marijuana Help?

Researchers have since begun to find a pattern between benzodiazepines and marijuana, with a recently released study showing a significant number of users ending their use of benzodiazepine drugs after taking up medical marijuana. The study was published just this year and found a 30% cessation rate after two months and 45% cessation at six months [2]. 

To find this, the scientists performed a retrospective analysis of the patients using medical records. The information was self-reported to their physician during visits. It is important to note that ending benzodiazepine use was not the goal of the study. 

The study goes on to say that cessation was not associated with any specific demographic and the CBD and THC content was the same between those who ended and those who continued their use. 

This study is interesting, as it has been found that a similar effect happens between marijuana and opioids, though at a much lower level. One study found that, between 2011 and 2016, there was a 5.88% decrease in opioid prescriptions in states with medical marijuana laws, and a 6.38% decrease in states with adult-use laws [3]. 

As always, it is important to remember the limitations of such studies. There is only one so far, and no mechanism and causal relationship has been identified, but research is always moving forward, and this presents a huge opportunity for patients. The next question scientists have to answer is why this may happen. 

While it is difficult to make assumptions in matters like this, some think it is due to the similarities in use cases between benzodiazepines and medical marijuana. For example, it has been found that CBD has the potential to be a treatment for several anxiety disorders, though further research is needed [4]. Marijuana has also been found to help users fall asleep and relax muscles. 

What are the Dangers of Marijuana?

While marijuana may be able to help people reduce are end benzodiazepine use, there is still and overlapping period where the study showed patients using both, and this opens the door for drug interactions to take place. Mixing marijuana and benzodiazepines can result in clouded judgement and increased risk for injury due to lowered reflexes and lack of coordination. It is important to remember that drug interactions are not necessarily additive or subtractive and can result in many different effects in different people and situations. 

In Conclusion

Benzodiazepines are widely prescribed drug used by millions of people in the United States. They are used to treat a wide range of conditions and work by inhibiting neural activity, giving them depressive effects. They have several side effects and long-term use can be dangerous for certain people. A study was recently published showing a significant decrease in use after patients began using medical marijuana. This could have huge implications for those with dependence or long-time users. While the reasons for this drop in use are not known, further research will continue to be done and possible mechanisms and interactions identified. 

Cited Works

Editorial credit for image: LMWH / Shutterstock.com

[1] https://www.psychiatrist.com/JCP/article/Pages/2018/v79/18m12174.aspx

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6757237/

[3] https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/article-abstract/2677000

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26341731