Italy: Legalization of Cannabis Light has reduced sales of pharmaceutical drugs

Last week, Italy's interior minister declared a "war" on "Cannabis Light," the low-THC hemp flowers that stores across the country are selling to consumers. However, it is unclear whether they will continue to do so in June, as the Supreme Court of Cassation may well challenge the legality of selling hemp flowers in Italy.

But in the first 10 months after dried CBD became available to consumers, the country's health service saw a significant drop in prescriptions for pharmaceutical drugs, a new study reports.

Researchers at York University in the United Kingdom, found that "the advent of cannabis light in a province led to a reduction in the number of anti-anxiety drugs dispensed by about 11.5%, a decrease in sales of sedative drugs by 10%, and a decrease in sales of antipsychotic drugs by 4.8%. ”

The study, published in the Health Econometrics and Data Group Working Paper series, is one of the first to examine how people use cannabis flower for self-medication.

In 2016, a new law regulating hemp production in Italy set off a "green gold rush": hemp CBD flowers containing less than 0.2% THC became available as a "collector's item." People are allowed to buy jars of hemp flowers, but technically not allowed to consume them. Unlike the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill, which legalized industrial hemp at the federal level, the Italian law removed some restrictions around cannabis. Within months, retailers in the country were selling dried CBD as a "collector's item."

The study's authors said the "unintended liberalization of cannabis light" provided an excellent starting point for exploring how the availability of cannabis could potentially encourage people to use the plant as a substitute for traditional medicines.

"We found that the local availability of cannabis flower on led to a reduction in the dispensing of opioids, anti-anxiety medications, sedatives, antimigraines, antiepileptics, antidepressants and antipsychotics."

The study collected pharmaceutical drug sales data for all 106 Italian provinces from January 2016 to February 2018. After cannabis flowers became readily available in retail stores, the average number of drugs dispensed dropped by about 1.6 percent. However, sales of drugs that are typically used to treat anxiety and psychosis - conditions where CBD has shown positive effects - fell the most.

"This is explained by the relaxing properties of CBD, which is often used to treat sleep disorders," the researchers said.

The researchers also documented a slight decrease in the dispensing of antiepileptic drugs (-1.5%), antidepressants (- 1.2%), opioids (-1.2%) and antimigraine drugs (about -1%) .

Ultimately, the study concludes that "even a mild form of liberalization can cause a significant spillover effect on the pharmaceutical market." As a result, the researchers encourage policymakers to consider more effective regulation of the legal cannabis flower market and evaluate how the CBD contained in hemp can be used for medical purposes.