Joint Effort: Controlling Cravings With Cannabis

Cannabis use could be a harm-reduction tool for people using stimulants such as cocaine, but the effects may not be the same for everyone.


Amid the ongoing drug toxicity crisis, where dangerous substances like fentanyl often contaminate unregulated drugs, finding safer alternatives is paramount.

Cannabis has emerged as a potential substitute for stimulants (e.g., cocaine and amphetamines) among unregulated drug users, offering a pathway toward harm reduction. However, there is a limited amount of research examining the impact of cannabis on patterns of stimulant use.

Addressing this gap, a recent study led by researchers from the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University sought to explore the use of cannabis to manage stimulant cravings, and its association with changes in stimulant use among individuals consuming these unregulated drugs. Their work was published in the Journal of Addictive Behaviors.

The study included individuals aged 18 years and above from the Vancouver Regional District who reported using cannabis and stimulants in the past six months. Participants completed a cannabis questionnaire that assessed the effects of their cannabis use on other substance use, including its role in reducing stimulant cravings.

Among the participants, 45% reported using cannabis to manage stimulant cravings, with 78% of that group reporting a decrease in stimulant use during periods of cannabis consumption. Notably, females were more likely to report decreased stimulant use during periods of cannabis consumption.

The study’s findings suggest that intentional cannabis may prove to be effective in managing stimulant drug cravings among individuals using unregulated drugs. However, the long-term outcomes of such cannabis use behaviours warrant further investigation.

Specifically, the study sheds light on sex-based differences in cannabis use for stimulant harm reduction. This aligns with previous findings which indicated that males were more inclined to use cannabis and develop a dependency on it, while females tended to report a reduction in opioid use during periods of cannabis consumption without developing a dependency on cannabis.

In conclusion, this study offers valuable insights into the potential benefits of cannabinoids in polysubstance use cravings and harm reduction. Moving forward, further research is essential to validate these findings and to inform evidence-based approaches — possibly tailored to different sexes — for harm reduction strategies in substance use disorders.

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Alexandria (Alex) Samson is a PhD student in the Department of Psychology at the University of Toronto. She completed her BSc in Neuroscience from Dalhousie University. Alex is a strong believer in open science and is passionate about making scientific research accessible to all audiences.