New research suggests a role in combating stimulant cravings

New research suggests a role in combating stimulant cravings


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Can cannabis offer a lifeline in the battle against drug addiction, particularly for those grappling with the perils of stimulants like crystal methamphetamine? New research from the University of British Columbia (UBC) suggests it might. The study, published in Addictive Behaviors, found that cannabis use is linked to a decrease in the use of crystal methamphetamine among individuals at high risk of overdose in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, an area severely impacted by illegal drug use.

With the rise of cannabis legalization, scientists have been keenly debating its impacts, particularly concerning the use of high-risk substances such as opioids and stimulants. Previous studies have pointed to cannabis as a potential harm reduction tool, suggesting that it could substitute more dangerous, unregulated drugs.

This concept is especially relevant given the alarming rates of drug toxicity and overdose deaths, exacerbated by the contamination of illicit drug supplies with potent opioids like fentanyl. The research aimed to explore this potential further, focusing on whether cannabis could help manage cravings and reduce the use of stimulants, specifically crystal methamphetamine

To delve into these questions, researchers gathered data from three prospective cohorts of people who use unregulated drugs (PWUD) in Vancouver, Canada: the At-Risk Youth Study (ARYS), the Vancouver Injection Drug Users Study (VIDUS), and the AIDS Care Cohort to Evaluate Exposure to Survival Services (ACCESS).

These cohorts included individuals from diverse backgrounds, including street-involved youth, adults with a history of injection drug use, and adults living with HIV, who all reported using cannabis in addition to other unregulated drugs. Participants were invited to complete a supplementary cannabis questionnaire, which probed into their frequency and motives for cannabis use, especially regarding its effects on other substance use.

Among the 297 participants, 45% reported using cannabis to manage stimulant cravings, and a significant majority of these individuals observed a reduction in their stimulant use when they used cannabis. This association was particularly strong for those using crystal methamphetamine, with daily cannabis use also showing a significant link to reduced stimulant consumption.

Interestingly, this effect was more pronounced among females and younger participants, suggesting nuanced dynamics in how cannabis affects stimulant use across different demographics.

“Our findings are not conclusive but do add to the growing scientific evidence that cannabis might be a beneficial tool for some people who want to better control their unregulated stimulant use, particularly for people who use crystal meth,” said Hudson Reddon, the study’s lead researcher. “This suggests a new direction for harm reduction strategies among people who use drugs.”

However, the study was not without its limitations. Its cross-sectional design and reliance on self-reported data mean that causal relationships cannot be definitively established, and the findings might not be generalizable to all drug users. Moreover, the potential for social desirability and recall bias could have influenced participants’ responses.

Despite these challenges, the study adds to a growing body of evidence suggesting that cannabis could serve as a valuable tool in harm reduction strategies, particularly for individuals at risk of stimulant-related harms.

Looking forward, the researchers call for more comprehensive studies to further explore the therapeutic potential of cannabis, including its use as a harm reduction strategy amidst the broader context of polysubstance use. Clinical trials and longitudinal studies are needed to better understand the long-term outcomes of cannabis use for managing stimulant cravings and its role in reducing the harm associated with unregulated stimulant use.

The study, “Cannabis use to manage stimulant cravings among people who use unregulated drugs,” was authored by Hudson Reddon, Maria Eugenia Socias, Kora DeBeck, Kanna Hayashi, Zach Walsh, and M.-J. Milloy.


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