Mass Researchers Study “Cannabis As An Alternative To Substance And Drug Use”

“The study is launching at a time of crisis and need of innovations that address the growing opioid epidemic in Massachusetts.”

Amidst other ongoing advocacy projects and its work pushing bills on Beacon Hill like An Act further defining eligibility for medical use marijuana, the Cannabis Center of Excellence is “launching a new research study for the canna-curious or those who consume recreational or medical cannabis who are currently or have in the past used cannabis to reduce the use of: alcohol, tobacco, unwanted prescription medications, over the counter medications, opioids, or recreational drugs including: heroin, fentanyl, or other street drugs.”

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The study is launching at a time of crisis and need of innovations that address the growing opioid epidemic in Massachusetts. In 2022, according to the MA Department of Public Health, opioid-related overdose deaths rose 2.5%, with a total of 2,357 deaths in 2022, with the overdose death rate increasing by 42%, accounting for the largest increase in overdose deaths. Fentanyl was present at a rate of 93 percent of fatal opioid overdoses in 2022 where a toxicology report was available. 47 percent of all opioid-related overdose deaths were between 25 and 44 years old; 43 percent were between 45 and 64 years old.

The Healey-Driscoll Administration’s opioid prevention efforts are focused on providing communities with the resources needed to support a wide range of substance use programs. Administration’s Fiscal Year 2024 (FY24) budget proposes investments of more than $600 million for substance addiction prevention and treatment programs. 

The iCount: Cannabis as an Alternative Research Study investigators include CCOE President Dr. Marion McNabb, Dr. Peter Grinspoon, and Eva Rachel Tine. The project is being conducted with support from Ayr Wellness as well as public contributions.

“For years we’ve been subjected to an unsupported theory that cannabis is a ‘gateway’ onto addiction to deadly drugs, but more recently we are learning that people have been using cannabis to transition off more dangerous pharmaceuticals such as opioids and benzos,” Grinspoon, whose new book Seeing Through the Smoke addresses these issues, said. “This study hopes to shed further light on this process and to encourage health care providers to engage their patients.”

“This new iCount research study is intended to give a platform for cannabis consumers, patients, and veterans to share their voice about how cannabis has helped in the past, or currently, reduce the use of other harmful substances including alcohol, tobacco, recreational drugs; or unwanted medication use including opioids, fentanyl, and prescription medications and over-the counter medications,” McNabb said. “Those that are cannabis-curious and are interested in learning more about how cannabis is used to reduce use.”

“Of the clients I’ve worked with, those who had the easiest time consistently accessing cannabis often also had the most success at reducing or ending their opioid and stimulant dependencies,” said Tine, a trauma and harm reduction specialist. “When cannabis became inaccessible, clients sometimes resumed using more harmful substances like fentanyl and crack cocaine.”

Kristin Rogers, the brand manager for Ayr and co-founder of the seltzer line Levia, added, “Despite numerous recognized uses for cannabis historically, research is the way that we take the next step to end the stigma and legitimize a medicine whose true value we can’t even comprehend. The entire world has been devastated by the opioid epidemic and ongoing use of addictive prescription medication. If we can be even the tiniest part of finding a safe alternative, that would be a dream come true.”

“It is our hope that this study will produce data about the risks, benefits, and how cannabis is being used as a harm reduction alternative. Findings will be shared with participants, clinicians, and policy makers.”

People “who do not consume cannabis but are interested in learning more about how cannabis is being used to reduce other substance use are also welcome to participate.” “Those interested can anonymously share their experiences through a five-minute online survey and participants will be entered into a lottery to receive a $100 gift card for participating.” You can join the study here.

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