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Study: Marijuana can be swapped out for booze, harder drugs

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By Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez |

In what may be a glaring “I told you so” moment, a new study suggest that cannabis may help folks kick their habits with alcohol and harder drugs.

For some people suffering from addiction, abstinence from all substances “may be neither a realistic or desirable goal,” according to researchers from the San Francisco-based Center for Substance Abuse Studies. Instead, substitution — when a drug user imbibes one drug instead of another — may be a solution.

And, as it turns out, cannabis is safer.

Drug users reported swapping out marijuana for alcohol or harder drugs, applying pot as a harm reduction tool, according to the study, “A safer alternative: Cannabis substitution as harm reduction“, published Tuesday in Drug and Alcohol Review.

This lesson jibes with campaign messages beamed into the brains of Colorado residents during the successful 2012 effort to legalize.

“Dear Dad, how do I say this?” one 2012 commercial from Colorado intones, “You enjoy a drink after work, in many ways I’m just like you… but when I get home I prefer to relax with marijuana instead of alcohol. They’re a little similar, but marijuana is less damaging to your health. Frankly, I don’t feel like crap the next day.”

Colorado groups like Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation, or SAFER, helped hammer that point home, trumpeting cannabis as a healthful alternative to alcohol, which has damaged many a liver.

While researchers stressed the need for more research, this new study suggests substituting marijuana can help with alcohol narcotics addictions, too.

The authors recorded audio interviews with Baby Boomers in the Bay Area, and issued a questionnaire and health survey.

“Study participants described using cannabis as a safer alternative for alcohol, illicit drugs and pharmaceuticals,” the authors wrote, “based on their perceptions of less adverse side effects, low-risk for addiction and greater effectiveness at relieving symptoms, such as chronic pain.”

The authors concluded that “cannabis substitution” can effectively help those who “are unable or unwilling” to stop using drugs completely.

Photo by Samantha Cohen, Creative Commons.