Authorized medical marijuana patients who began using cannabis to help reduce their drinking report experiencing a reduction or even discontinuation of alcohol use, notes new research out of the University of Victoria.

The finding reflects feedback from 2,102 patients registered with Tilray, a medical cannabis research and production company in Canada. The input was received as part of the Canadian Cannabis Patient Survey 2019, which gathered details on patient demographics, patterns of weed use and self-reported use of prescription drugs, alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs before and after starting medical cannabis.

Of the participants who reported using alcohol on at least 10 occasions in the 12 months prior to starting medical cannabis, 43.5 per cent said the frequency of their drinking fell. Specifically, median drinking days went from 10.5 to 8.0.

Additionally, 34.1 per cent of participants cited a drop in the number of standard drinks consumed weekly, 59 per cent reported no change and seven per cent noted an increase, according to a statement from Tilray.

In all, 7.8 per cent of respondents said they had not had alcohol in the 30 days prior to the survey; they were classified as having ceased use.

“Being younger than 55 years and reporting higher rates of alcohol use prior to initiating medical cannabis use were both associated with greater odds of reducing alcohol use,” notes the study, recently published in the International Journal of Drug Policy.

“Having an intention to use medical cannabis to reduce alcohol consumption was associated with significantly greater odds of both reducing and ceasing alcohol use altogether,” Tilray reports in the statement.

There is “a growing body of evidence that medical cannabis use is often associated with reductions in the use of other substances.” / Photo: rclassenlayouts / iStock / Getty Images Plus rclassenlayouts / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Those findings jibe with “a growing body of evidence that medical cannabis use is often associated with reductions in the use of other substances,” Philippe Lucas, a University of Victoria researcher who led the study and is Tilray’s vice president of global patient research and access, says in the company statement.

“This study found that medical cannabis initiation was also associated with reductions in tobacco/nicotine use, and the use of prescription opioids and other prescription drugs,” Lucas notes in an email response to The GrowthOp. That data “will be the focus of other upcoming publications.”

While researchers believed cannabis use could be associated with less use of some other substances, what they didn’t have a clear view of was why changes were happening at the individual level.

A number of population-level studies out of the U.S. have “noted reductions in alcohol-related harms (violent crimes, homicides, alcohol-related automobile fatalities, suicides, etc.) following the legalization of medical and recreational cannabis,” Lucas told The GrowthOp. That said, “very few studies have reported on individual-level patient experiences, and none have provided this level of granularity/detail,” he said.

Alcohol is the most prevalent recreational substance in the world, and its use results in significant rates of criminality, morbidity and mortality, Lucas notes in the statement. “These findings may result in improved health outcomes for medical cannabis patients, as well as overall improvements in public health and safety,” adds the study abstract.

Based on polling on the subject, Lucas says almost 90 per cent of surveyed Canadians support the medical use of cannabis. “While there is still resistance from medical associations like the Canadian Medical Association, more and more MDs now prescribe,” he told The GrowthOp, citing Health Canada data that suggests about 20 per cent of doctors are in favour.

That support is likely key given that access to medical marijuana continues to be an issue. Calling the situation “highly problematic,” Lucas says “cost is still a significant barrier to access, as is lack of availability via pharmacies.”

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