Unlike opioids, there is no medically recognised pharmacological therapy for problematic crack cocaine use. Prior research has shown that cannabis and its components, known as cannabinoids, can help people reduce their use of opioids. Emerging evidence, including data from animal studies, suggests cannabis may also reduce cravings for crack, possible by modulating reward pathways in the brain.
Maria Eugenia Socias of the British Columbia Centre on Substance Use presented findings from a study of harm reduction practices among people who use crack in Vancouver. The results were also published in the September 2017 edition of the journal Addictive Behaviors.
“We found that intentional cannabis use preceded declines in crack use among crack cocaine users who pursued self-medication with cannabis,” Socias said.
The researchers looked at data from 2000 people who use drugs from three prospective cohorts, focusing on those who reported intentionally using cannabis to help control their crack use. They compared how frequently participants reported using crack before, during and after a period of marijuana use.
Between June 2012 and May 2015 they identified 122 participants who said they used cannabis to reduce crack use. About three-quarters were men, the median age was 46 years and a majority resided in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside neighbourhood. Nearly half reported that they used cannabis every day.
In an adjusted analysis, the researchers found that people used crack significantly less often after a period of cannabis use, though crack use did not decrease during the time they were using marijuana.
“A period of intentional cannabis use to reduce crack use was associated with subsequent decreased frequency of crack use,” the researchers concluded. “Use of cannabis peaked during intentional use periods, with a decreasing trend afterwards.”
Socias and colleagues are now planning a clinical trial to evaluate the effect of cannabis on crack use. Several other studies are underway looking at whether cannabis or isolated cannabinoids can be used to help manage problematic use of opioids, methamphetamine and alcohol.