Most medical marijuana users substitute the drug for some other substance they would otherwise be taking, according to researchers in Canada.

In a study, a majority of about 400 medical cannabis users in British Columbia reported using pot in place of alcohol, hard drugs or prescription medications. In all, more than 75 percent of them said they substituted weed for something else.

Many alcoholics have long used cannabis as a replacement for booze. There’s even a name for it: the Marijuana Maintenance Program. It’s derided by the official recovery community, especially Alcoholics Anonymous, but for many people who aren’t helped by 12-step programs, it’s the most effective solution available.

drugsIn Canada, the researchers found more than 41 percent of patients use weed as a substitute for alcohol. Slightly more than 36 percent, meanwhile, said they used pot instead of illicit drugs such as heroin or LSD. Finally, about 67 percent, the largest group, said they swapped out at least one prescription medication for cannabis.

Respondents gave three main reasons for using marijuana instead of other substances. First, 68 percent of them felt marijuana produces “less withdrawal.” Sixty percent reported “fewer side effects.” And many said they had “better symptom management” with weed.

“Many patients may have already identified cannabis as an effective and potentially safer adjunct or alternative to their prescription drug regimen,” the study’s authors wrote.

Their findings were published in Addicition Research and Theory. The authors urged more research in the form of randomized clinical trials.

Unlike most of the hard-core abstinence-based recovery movement, the scientists in British Columbia took a harm-reduction approach to patients’ use, saying the replacement of marijuana for other, more dangerous chemicals could be a good development.

For one thing, alcohol, many prescription drugs and every illicit drug on the black market can kill in the right dose or at least cause serious health problems. None of this is true with cannabis.

Studies on the long-term health consequences of weed are conflicting, but there’s no conclusive evidence that it causes any major problems. Claims that toking leads to lung cancer, for example, are clouded by the fact that many pot smokers also smoke tobacco, greatly increasing their risk for cancer. Studies have failed to tease out this critical distinction.

And no one in recorded history has produced a verified report of a death resulting directly from weed. There have been traffic fatalities and accidents and drug cocktails involving marijuana, but not one case of pot consumption alone resulting in death, anywhere on the planet.

Using cannabis simply doesn’t carry the risk that applies to booze, hard drugs and many prescription medications. So if it can save lives, why aren’t we using it?

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