Medical cannabis helped almost half of individuals get off their stress medications after six months, according to a Canadian study conducted at a cannabis-focused treatment center.
Benzodiazepines are pharmaceutical drugs prescribed to treat anxiety disorders and seizures; common trade names they’re marketed under include Ativan, Klonopin, Valium, and Xanax.
“The study results are encouraging, and this function is concurrent with growing public attention in a rapidly developing Canadian cannabis market,” said Chad Purcell, lead author of the study and also a medical student who also holds bachelors degrees in pharmacology and pharmacy. The study is important due to increased interest in the potential of cannabis products to alleviate the continuing opioid addiction crisis. Aleafia Health’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Michael Verbora, stated they discovered the results of the study notable in that almost one out of every two patients were able to stop taking pharmaceutical anti-anxiety drugs after fourteen months, some even sooner.
“The opioid crisis gets a great deal of air time, but individuals don’t always understand that behind the opioid crisis is benzodiazepine addiction and overuse of antidepressants,” Verbora explained. “By offering a safer choice such as medical cannabis, we can keep people away from addictive substances.”
With anxiety and depression on the rise, scientists are taking a close look at the impact of cannabis on the regulation of dopamine , sometimes called the “molecule that is joyful.” The ability of the tightly-controlled endocannabinoid system to regulate the body’s dopamine is well recognized, suggesting that cannabis will help treat depression and nervousness.
Cannabis May Increase Serotonin Levels
“A great deal of the drugs we use to treat depression work by altering the amount of serotonin that is readily available for the mind to use,” Verbora explained. “Cannabinoids may boost serotonin levels in some specific conditions and reduce them in others.”
Serotonin is just one of the neurotransmitters, or chemical messengers, that transmit signals between brain cells and is involved in the regulation of many different processes within the brain, such as depression, disposition, emotions, sleep, appetite, stress, memory, and senses.
“There’s an interesting connection between dopamine and cannabinoids. We do not know precisely how they operate together or which you may regulate another or whether it is a little of both,” Verbora said.
Referring to a study published at the European Journal of Medicine in March 2018 that followed almost 3,000 cancer patients who used cannabis for a variety of cancer-related symptoms for more than half an hour, Verbora concentrated on the patients’ state of mind.
“What was intriguing to me was over 80 percent of those patients in the analysis expressly said that in regards to depression and anxiety, they reported a marked improvement in both” Verbora said.
Researchers from McGill University at Montreal along with the University of Oxford in England printed a research from the American Medical Association journal JAMA Psychiatry on Feb. 13, 2019, that connected cannabis use among teens to increased risk of suicide and depression (but not anxiety) in adulthood. The results, according to 11 studies, reveal associations and not causal connections.
“While there’s some info that says if you use cannabis, a lot of it, and it’s smoked, there is an association possibly. Nonetheless, it’s marginal, which means that there will be a tiny prospect of an increase in anxiety and depression later in life,” Verbora said. “It is actually tough to say that cannabis causes it, but there is an association.”
Clinical Research Could Provide a More Clear Picture
Although the 50,000 patients Aleafia has treated using medical marijuana in the previous five years have consented to the selection of their medical information for observational research, Verbora said much more could be done if there were more clinical research happening.
“Due to regulatory hurdles and lingering stigma, there’s still a lack of medical cannabis research, particularly about melancholy,” he said.
While anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, depression isn’t far behind; they are often lumped together. Nearly one-half of those diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with a stress disorder.
The World Health Organization reported in 2017 that some 300 million people worldwide suffer from depression. In the United States, an estimated 16.2 million adults have experienced depression, in addition to an increasing number of teens and young adults.
With additional studies linking certain antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications with dementia, Verbora and his colleagues state that the time is ripe to locate alternatives.
“Just as we could get away patients from potentially harmful drugs and on safer substances like medical cannabis, I would say we’re doing our jobs properly,” he explained.