Marijuana is often described as a “gateway drug” – a softer drug that might lead to harder drugs – but a study out of UBC Okanagan said many people use it in place of alcohol or prescription opiate-based drugs.
In fact, the study of 473 respondents indicates that more than 80 per cent of medical marijuana users substitute pot for pain killers.
“This is consistent with recent findings from the US that indicates medical cannabis use had a role in a nearly 25 per cent reduction in opioid overdose deaths — which is a really big deal given the crisis Canada faces with prescription opioid use,” said UBC Okanagan Associate Professor Zach Walsh in a release.
The study also indicates 51 per cent use pot as a replacement for alcohol and 33 per cent use it in place of harder drugs like crystal meth or cocaine.
“While cannabis use can certainly be problematic for some individuals, these findings highlight the potential of cannabis to be an ‘exit drug’ to addiction rather than a gateway drug,” said lead author of the study Phillippe Lucas, a research scholar with the Centre for Addictions Research of B.C.
“Used properly, cannabis can substitute for potentially more harmful substances like alcohol, prescription drugs, and illicit substances, and therefore reduce the public health and safety impacts of those substances on individuals and on society as a whole.”
Now the authors want to compare how legal access to medical marijuana relates to the use of both legal and illegal drug use – in fact, they’re calling for a “comprehensive analysis.”
“We need to compare the risks and benefits of using other substances, such as opiates or alcohol, to the risks and benefits of cannabis use to estimate the real public health consequences of cannabis use,” said Walsh.
“Looking at cannabis use in isolation paints an incomplete picture.”
The study was published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Review.