New study suggests cannabis consumption may help recovering fentanyl addicts

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Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

Fresh insights into cannabis for opioid addiction have outlined how the plant may help to minimize fentanyl exposure. 

Researchers from the University of British Columbia, Center of Substance Use gleaned data from “two community-recruited prospective cohorts of people who use drugs in Vancouver, Canada” to come to their conclusion.

In 2019, opioid overdoses killed some 72,000 people in the United States alone. Fortunately, the recent study’s findings suggest that individuals involved in opioid agonist therapy (OAT) could benefit from using cannabis as a treatment.

Using their data, the team studied “the relationship between cannabis use and recent fentanyl exposure”. The research, which was published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, determined that fentanyl exposure was “common” among study subjects.

“At the baseline interview, fentanyl was detected in a majority of participants,” wrote the researchers, who noted that traces of the opioid fentanyl were detected in 53 percent of participants. However, they went on to say that overall “cannabis use was independently associated with reduced likelihood of being recently exposed to fentanyl.”

Study on cannabis to treat opioid addiction: Fentanyl exposure “common” in OAT cases

In most cases, patients will undergo OAT after struggling with opioid substance abuse. According to the research team, the “ongoing opioid overdose crisis is driven largely by exposure to illicitly-manufactured fentanyl.”

Buprenorphine/naloxone (Suboxone), methadone, fentanyl and oxycodone are some of the most commonly abused opioids among patients who undergo OAT a type of therapy designed to address drug-related harms.

A total of “819 participants on OAT who contributed 1989 observations over the study period” were assessed to understand the potential of using cannabis to treat opioid addiction. All OAT participants were receiving treatment between the years 2016 and 2018. 

“We found that among more than 800 participants on OAT in Vancouver, Canada, use of cannabis was longitudinally associated with a substantially lower risk of being exposed to fentanyl,” reads an excerpt from the researchers’ findings; cited by NORML in a report.

“Given the magnitude of the overdose crisis in the U.S. and Canada and the substantial contributions of fentanyl to the burden of overdose morbidity and mortality, findings from this study support the experimental evaluation of cannabinoids as a potential adjunct therapy to OAT to improve clinical outcomes, particularly to reduce the risk of relapse to illicit opioid use (i.e., fentanyl) and associated risk of overdose and death.”

Study on cannabis to treat opioid addiction emerges amid the coronavirus pandemic

Scientists are raving about an ever-evolving patchwork of evidence that points to the benefits of cannabis for opioid abuse. In addition to this recent study on cannabis to treat opioid addiction, various other investigations have shone some light on the subject. 

In June 2020, a wealth of research was published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology that claimed “cannabis access may modestly reduce demand for opioids in persons who have pain.”

“Adults reporting current use of opioids for pain management and past 30-day cannabis exposure completed two hypothetical purchase tasks in which only grams of cannabis or units of participants’ index opioids were available for purchase, and two hypothetical tasks in which both were concurrently available and the price of one drug increased whereas the other was kept constant,” the researchers wrote.

The following month, a study published in the journal Systematic Reviews found that medical cannabis users were less likely to be admitted to hospital or visit an emergency room to relieve chronic non-cancer pain; as opposed to people who didn’t use the plant in its medicinal form.

“There was 64 to 75 percent reduction in opioid dosage for MC users and complete stoppage of opioid use for chronic non-cancer pain by 32 to 59 percent of MC users, when compared to patients without additional use of MC,” concluded the researchers.

Ultimately, recent efforts to expand cannabis research opportunities in the U.S. are expected to further drive momentum on the topic of cannabis for opioid addiction.