News / Vancouver

British Columbia researchers find cannabis may be effective substitute for crack cocaine addicts

New study from the BC Centre on Substance Use finds people with addictions to crack cocaine see “significant decline” in use when taking cannabis instead.

A young man smokes a marijuana joint during a rally in downtown Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday April 20, 2011. Provinces have been protesting the large volume of work and heavy costs they say the Trudeau government has piled on them in its rush to legalize recreational cannabis across Canada by next year.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

A young man smokes a marijuana joint during a rally in downtown Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday April 20, 2011. Provinces have been protesting the large volume of work and heavy costs they say the Trudeau government has piled on them in its rush to legalize recreational cannabis across Canada by next year.

Marijuana could be used to treat people suffering from addictions to crack cocaine, according to a new study from the BC Centre on Substance Use.

Dr. M-J Milloy, a research scientist at the BCCSU, told Metro that his team has seen “significant declines” in daily crack cocaine use among a cohort of 122 Vancouver-area people with addictions who reported substituting the drug with cannabis.

Approximately 35 per cent of the people interviewed initially told researchers they would use crack cocaine daily.

That number fell to 20 per cent after people used cannabis as a substitute – a “significant decline”, according to the researcher.

“We were a little bit surprised when we found out people were reporting that they were substituting cannabis for crack cocaine,” Milloy said. “We expected that the drug that they would be substituting for would be heroin or some opioid because both share pain relief properties.”

The findings, published in the journal Addictive Behaviors and presented Tuesday at the 2017 Harm Reduction International Conference in Montreal, could mark a real breakthrough for the estimated seven million people with cocaine use disorder worldwide.

“The findings today are important because there’s broad consensus among us scientists that one of the top priorities in drug research is developing some sort of medication, some sort of effective treatment for people suffering from crack cocaine use disorder,” said Milloy. “The problem is we don’t have a very good medical treatment to offer people. Unlike opioids, there is no effective substitution therapy [for cocaine].

“And, of course, in this era of fentanyl when basically every drug we’ve seen has been shown to be contaminated, we think it’s especially important to be engaging crack cocaine users in care. We’re hoping we can test this hypothesis further and see if cannabis can be a good candidate for that.”

Milloy said the risks associated with cannabis use are less severe than those for harder drugs, such as dependency, overdose and exposure to HIV.

The centre’s findings seem to be building on an emerging global trend.

Research in Jamaica and Brazil, according to the study, have shown cannabis is “frequently used as a self-medication strategy to reduce craving and other undesirable effects of crack.”

With the new findings in hand, Milloy said his team is now interested in researching what about cannabis may make it a feasible substitute for crack cocaine users and expand on its application in a clinical setting.

“Given the substantial global burden of morbidity and mortality attributable to crack cocaine use disorders alongside a lack of pharmacotherapies, we echo calls for a rigorous experimental research on cannabinoids as a potential treatment for crack cocaine use disorders,” the study concludes.

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