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Can Cannabis be Considered a Substitute Medication for Alcohol?

Meenakshi Sabina Subbaraman
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/alcalc/agt182 292-298 First published online: 8 January 2014


Aims: Substituting cannabis for alcohol may reduce drinking and related problems among alcohol-dependent individuals. Some even recommend prescribing medical cannabis to individuals attempting to reduce drinking. The primary aim of this review is to assess whether cannabis satisfies the seven previously published criteria for substitute medications for alcohol [e.g. ‘reduces alcohol-related harms’; ‘is safer in overdose than alcohol’; ‘should offer significant health economic benefits’; see Chick and Nutt ((2012) Substitution therapy for alcoholism: time for a reappraisal? J Psychopharmacol 26:205–12)]. Methods: Literature review. Results: All criteria appear either satisfied or partially satisfied, though studies relying on medical cannabis patients may be limited by selection bias and/or retrospective designs. Individual-level factors, such as severity of alcohol problems, may also moderate substitution. Conclusions: There is no clear pattern of outcomes related to cannabis substitution. Most importantly, the recommendation to prescribe alcohol-dependent individuals cannabis to help reduce drinking is premature. Future studies should use longitudinal data to better understand the consequences of cannabis substitution.

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