Why Marijuana Is Safer Than Benzodiazepines

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A growing body of evidence shows us that marijuana may be a safe alternative to other prescription drugs for conditions like anxiety, depression and chronic pain.

Medical marijuana shows particular promise in areas where it could potentially replace commonly abused prescription drugs like benzodiazepines.

What Are Benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines, or benzos, are typically prescribed for anxiety disorders, but they are sometimes used to treat other conditions like alcohol withdrawal and seizures. You’ve probably heard of the most commonly-prescribed benzodiazepine. It goes by the name of Xanax. Librium, Valium and Ativan are also in this same drug class. In fact, there are 15 different types of FDA-approved benzodiazepines.

Benzodiazepines have a sedative effect and work by taking over GABA-A receptors in the brain. This action negatively charges neurons and makes them less excitable. This is how benzodiazepines work to quell anxiety. These drugs also have hypnotic and muscle-relaxant properties.

Benzodiazepine Side Effects

When we’re talking about whether benzodiazepine should be the drug of choice, we’re not questioning its efficacy. The biggest issue with this drug is its side effects, including addiction.

According to data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 22,000 people died from overdoses linked to prescription drugs in 2013. A whopping 31 percent of those deaths were associated with prescription benzodiazepines.

Common side effects of these drugs include drowsiness, dizziness, blurred vision, confusion, slurred speech, weakness, lack of coordination and difficulty breathing. When someone abuses benzos, they are likely to experience insomnia, headaches, anxiety, anorexia, and weakness.

Cannabis As an Alternative Treatment for Anxiety

Researchers have been studying cannabis as an anxiety treatment for decades, but one thing has held it back – until recently.

For some, the THC in marijuana can cause or exacerbate anxiety. Cannabidiol (CBD) seems to address this problem. A small 2011 study of people with social anxiety disorder found that their anxiety levels greatly diminished under social pressure after taking cannabidiol.

Since CBD doesn’t contain the psychoactive component THC, it doesn’t have the same mind-altering effects as marijuana. However, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration still classifies CBD in the same way as marijuana, so it’s illegal in many states.

When you look at regulations for both benzos and marijuana, you’ll notice that benzodiazepines are classified as Schedule 4 drugs and cannabis is classified as a Schedule 1 drug. This means that marijuana is classified as addictive and devoid of medicinal use. Armed with this information alone, you’d be tempted to think that benzos are safer, but that’s clearly not the case.

We can consider cannabis an extremely safe drug based on the fact that there are no recorded overdose deaths citing cannabis alone as their cause. To put it simply, no one has ever overdosed on marijuana.

One study assessed the comparative risk of alcohol, tobacco, cannabis and other illicit drugs and found that cannabis was the only low-risk substance on the list. The review also found marijuana to be 114 times less deadly than alcohol.

Cannabis Is a Clear Winner For Anxiety

If given the choice, most people would opt for the medicine that offers the lowest death rate. Between cannabis and benzodiazepines, cannabis is the clear winner. Not only has it been proven to be effective against the symptoms of anxiety, but there are fewer side effects and a drastically reduced risk of premature death.

If given the option, would you consider using cannabis or CBD instead of benzos to treat your anxiety?