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2019 Study Finds Cannabis as Possibly a Fit Alternative to Benzodiazepine Use

Phyllis Milka

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It has been recently revealed that a group of Canadian researchers found a potential alternative to the use of benzodiazepine. Before analyzing said study, let’s briefly go over what benzodiazepine is, how it is used, and its pros and cons.

What Is Benzodiazepine?

As defined by the Medical News Today, benzodiazepines are a category of psychoactive drugs used to treat insomnia, body pain, seizures, panic disorders and, with primarily emphasis on, anxiety.

While it is supposedly vague as to how it functions to treat the former three concerns, its main function is through the brain. As per the claims made, benzodiazepines work alongside neurotransmitters, where the latter is a chemical that induces nerves to connect. Considering that anxiety is treated by the drug, it is obvious that it tries to increase the presence of excitatory neurotransmitters, which help to heighten one’s mood (an example being Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid).

In What Form(s) Are Benzodiazepines Present? What Are Some Of Its Pros?

Some of the different types of Benzodiazepines consumers might have been introduced to include:

  • Alprazolam: typically sold as Xanax, is deemed a short-term use of benzodiazepine. Its uses entail easing short-term anxiety, panic disorders and nausea.
  • Clobazam: is a type of benzodiazepine that has been known as an anxiolytic (i.e. reduces anxiety) and an anticonvulsant (i.e. treats epilepsy, bipolar disorder, etc.).
  • Clonazepam: typically sold as Klonopin, belongs to the benzodiazepine’s tranquilizer class and has supposedly been effective in treating seizures, panic disorders and movement disorders.
  • Clorazepate: typically sold under Tranxene, carries a wide range of properties including anxiolytic, anticonvulsant, sedative, hypnotic and relaxant. Hence, it has been used to treat a variety of health concerns such as anxiety, partial seizures, and alcohol withdrawal symptoms.Another similar drug is that of Chlordiazepoxide, but what differentiates it from the former is that it has a medium to long-half life. This implies that the latter can last anywhere between 36 and 200 hours.
  • Diazepam: previously referred to as Valium, it is a type of benzodiazepine that induces calming effects. This is especially useful in treating anxiety, alcohol withdrawal, seizures and muscle spasms.

The list above is a sample of nearly 23 types of benzodiazepines that are available in the health industry today. Evidently, many of them share similar traits while standing out as well. The most common symptoms that can be treated include anxiety, panic disorders, and alcohol withdrawal, which is great. Unfortunately, with any good exists some bad, but in the case of benzodiazepines, the bad are ridiculously extensive.

Consequences Of Using Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines have been deemed ideal for short-term relief, however, its side effects are said to accumulate over time. This could potentially haunt consumers in the long run. Here’s a list of common side effects one can expect from using benzodiazepines:

  • Confusion
  • Irritability
  • Memory loss
  • Dizziness, nausea and vomiting
  • Change in sex drive
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Lack of focus
  • Muscle pain
  • Paradoxical anxiety
  • Breathing problems

What’s interesting in the cons is that some of the health concerns that said medication claim to treat end up reappearing in the long run, but at an extreme level. So, what is the point of using a drug if it only makes the symptom reappear? Based on the long-term side effects, it looks like the use of benzodiazepines only seems to worsen every possible aspect of health.

Now that we have some understanding on what benzodiazepine is, the different forms it has been delivered in and its pros and cons, let’s go back to the Canadian researchers and their findings.

The Benzos Study

According to Cannahealth, Canadian researchers wanted to assess whether cannabis can help patients get off of benzos. Their sampling strategy involved retorting to existing data found via Canabo Medical Clinic. The procedure undergone in selecting the sample has not been shared, however, given that “Canabo runs 22 referral-only medical cannabis clinics across Canada,” they could have gone with stratified sampling. As for the sample size, it is 146, which is large enough to make inferences about all Canadian benzodiazepine users.

Their method involved analyzing patients who have used benzodiazepines prior to their first Canabo clinic visit. Those patients were then offered cannabis prescriptions for a two-month period. Then said patients had to fill out a self-reported survey. Each patient had to follow up three times to renew their cannabis prescriptions.

The Findings

It seems like majority of the patients used benzodiazepines for pain (47.9%) followed by mental health concerns (31.9%) and brain conditions (7.5%). After the first visit, nearly 30% of the patients stopped using benzodiazepines and by the end of the study, it went up to 45.2%. As per the claims made, 30% of the patients believed their quality of life to have improved with 45% still retorting to benzodiazepines.

Potential Restrictions

While the sample size is relatively large, it would have been more interesting to see how the use of cannabis prescriptions altered one’s health by age groups. Considering that majority of patients used benzodiazepines as a possible “pain killer”, one might assume the sample to contain only elder patients. The results would then be meaningless for other adults.

Another problem that could arise is in relation to self-report surveys. While the researchers’ intent in ensuring bias is avoided at all cost will be met, we really need to consider the fact that the patients could have lied (depending on what was shared to them in terms of the details of the study), and could have selected options that made their lives easier (given that the survey was long). Additionally, it is not clear why only 75% of the opinions via the survey was shared, versus that of the entire sample size.

Interestingly, Cannahealth notes that the study was primarily observational, hence the researchers could not say with any level of confidence that cannabis helped patients get off of benzodiazepines.

Final Thoughts

Overall, it is clear that an alternative to benzodiazepines is a must, as it has the potential to deteriorate one’s quality of life over the long run. But whether cannabis is viable alternative remains unclear, as only one study exists that indicate it to be helpful. In order for said results to be reliable, similar studies with similar results need to be witnessed. On the other hand, the fact that such an option exists gives hope to health practitioners and researchers, as they have yet another medicine to explore.

Phyllis Milka is one of the newest contributors here at TOC and has a diverse, multi-year background with his experienced writing career. Be sure to stay on the lookout for what she is going to help create here.

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