Research conducted in the Downtown Eastside shows cannabis could help reduce crack use

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      We've heard of cannabis being used as an effective replacement for opioids, but new research conducted in Vancouver has shown that it can also help people control their use of crack cocaine.

      Today, Dr. Eugenia Socias presented the largest longitudinal study demonstrating the potential role of cannabis as a substitution strategy for crack cocaine, on behalf of the B.C. Centre on Substance Use (BCCSU) at the 2017 Harm Reduction International Conference in Montreal. 

      To come to their conclusion, scientists at BCCSU took a close look at the crack use of 122 individuals who use illicit drugs in the Downtown Eastside and Downtown South neighborhoods.

      Their observations showed that users’ frequency of crack use was reduced overall after they had reported smoking cannabis to help modulate their crack use. 

      "Crack cocaine, whether it's injected or inhaled, is associated with an array of negative health consequences, including cuts and burns from unsafe pipes and the transmission of infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C," said Socias in a press release. 

      "We found that intentional cannabis use preceded declines in crack use among crack cocaine users who pursued self-medication with cannabis."

      Of the 14 to 21 million cocaine users worldwide, it's estimated that roughly seven million users have a cocaine use disorder.

      It is widely thought that a large proportion of cocaine users consume crack cocaine, especially among marginalized populations in both North and South America.

      Findings from BCCSU's research are in line with similar studies conducted in Jamaica, and Brazil—the largest consumer of crack cocaine in the world.

      One such study followed 25 individuals with crack cocaine use disorders who were both using cannabis to reduce their crack cravings, and seeking treatment.

      Researchers found that, over a nine-month follow-up period, the majority (68%) of users were able to effectively stop using crack. 

      According to the BCCSU, there is no effective pharmaceutical therapy for crack cocaine use. 

      "In the absence of effective therapies for crack dependence, our findings provide a foundation on which to explore the potential of cannabis to treat problematic substance use," said research scientist and senior author of the paper, Dr. M-J Milloy, in a press release.

      "The federal government's plan to legalize cannabis represents a tremendous opportunity to support research in this area and we plan to further investigate whether cannabis could contribute to reducing the harms of crack cocaine use among marginalized drug users."

      In a recent interview, Dr. Milloy told the Straight he was surprised by the results of the study.

      "The crack angle was surprising to me, because there's been a lot of talk about to what extent cannabis might be helpful in the context of drug dependence," he said.

      "When I thought about drug substitution, I thought, well maybe it's best for people who are dependent on opioids. I didn't expect it to come from the stimulant side of things."