Categories: CannabisResearch

Can Cannabis Replace Benzodiazepines and Opioids?

Benzodiazepines are powerful medications for anxiety, insomnia, and several other conditions, have implicated in roughly 8,000 overdose deaths in a year. Cannabis could help reduce benzodiazepine dependency and abuse, due to the ability of cannabis to affect the same neural pathways in the brain.

Benzodiazepines are a large class of lab-synthesized drugs, with the inclusion of –

  • Diazepam (Valium)
  • Lorazepam (Ativan)
  • Clonazepam (Klonopin)
  • Alprazolam (Xanax)

These medications are prescribed for conditions like

  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Nervousness
  • Panic disorders
  • Seizures
  • Muscle spasms

They are also used for sedation during surgery as well as for the treatment of premenstrual syndrome and the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.

Benzodiazepines are prescribed for acute situations (that includes calming a patient before surgery of the alleviation of the anxiety of a traveler before a flight) and intended for short-term use because they act relatively quickly. However, these drugs are also prescribed for long periods, which leads to a significant number of serious side effects and addiction.

Benzodiazepines are rarely responsible alone for overdose deaths. However, due to their ability to depress the central nervous system (CNS), they can contribute to overdose deaths when taken along with other kinds of CNS depressants such as alcohol or opioids.

Although not fatal, these drugs cause numerous side effects, where the minor ones include dizziness, confusion, problems with memory and concentration, gastrointestinal problems, poor balance, and fatigue. However, serious side effects can include jaundice, severe low blood pressure, elevated heart rate, musculoskeletal problems, and cognitive decline and dementia.

Endocannabinoid receptors, that can bind both to cannabinoids produced internally as well as from external sources such as spices and cannabis, are found in organs and tissue throughout the body. The cannabinoid receptor CB1 occurs widely in the brain, especially in the prefrontal cortex, hippocampus, and amygdala, which all are areas that are rich in GABA receptors.

Anandamide and 2-AG are the body’s natural cannabinoids that produce feelings of calmness and relaxation. Recent research shows that processes that cause a reduction in the release of GABA, can be affected by them the way benzodiazepines do. Furthermore, because natural cannabinoids and cannabinoids from cannabis (particularly cannabidiol (CBD)), bind to the same receptors, they support those processes too.

More effectiveness and safety, compared to benzodiazepines, are shown by cannabis products of all kinds, especially those high in CBD. Although found in relatively large numbers in many areas of the brain, endocannabinoid receptors are notably absent in the brainstem – which is not the case for both opioids and GABA, and which is why cannabis Is highly unlikely to cause or contribute to an overdose death.

Benzodiazepines can override the body’s expression of GABA when used for longer periods. The medications can become addictive and can trigger a series of possibly dangerous withdrawal symptoms when stopped. There is a high addiction risk in benzodiazepines, which is why a majority of drug rehab programs now include the treatment for them.

Meanwhile, few, if any, physical withdrawal symptoms are caused by stopping cannabis. Since all of the functions of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) are affected by cannabis, it gives rise to other positive effects such as immune system support and relief from pain, and the symptoms from various health conditions.

Recent research on cannabis as a substitute for prescription medications has revealed that an incredible majority of cannabis consumers were able to reduce and stop using opioids and also other medications which included benzodiazepines, with the use of cannabis

The documented benefits of cannabis held the inclusion of alleviation of anxiety, relief from insomnia and depression, as well as the symptoms of epilepsy and other disorders that were currently treated with benzodiazepines.

In all of its forms, cannabis has shown to work with the brain’s GABA pathways like benzodiazepines.

Saher Asad Mir

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