Accumulation of evidence points to cannabis’ ability to reduce opioid use

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Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

An investigative duo from the Cureus Journal of Medical Science have discovered that regular consumption of cannabis is associated with prolonged reductions in opioid use. In order to reach their conclusion, the team analyzed data from more than 500 state-registered medical cannabis patients.

What the investigators found out was that 45 percent of surveyed cannabis consumers decreased their opioid use after undergoing plant-based therapy. An additional 40 percent of respondents claimed to have stopped using opioids altogether following frequent cannabis exposure; something that other studies have also confirmed.

Even more impressive is the fact that the vast majority of survey respondents (65 percent) reported consistent improvements in their opioid habits for more than one year.

“To our knowledge, this is one of the largest surveys of chronic pain patients who used opioids continuously for a minimum of three months and combined it with medical cannabis. Our results show a remarkable percentage of patients both reporting complete cessation of opioids and decreasing opioid usage by the addition of medical cannabis, with results lasting for over a year for the majority,” wrote the authors.

All of the surveyed individuals of whom were registered to receive medical cannabis in the northeastern region of the United States had been prescribed opioids as a treatment for chronic pain. Their prescriptions extended over a minimum of three months.

What is the opioid epidemic and why does it need to be resolved?

With more proof that cannabis can help opioid users substitute their habits with the plant, there will be hope for the opioid epidemic to, eventually, fade into a thing of the past. Opioids are renowned for causing a variation of side effects; most of which are undesirable. They include drowsiness, constipation, nausea and mental confusion. Drugs that fall into the opiate family have also been linked to slower breathing and heart rates. 

Between the years 1999 and 2018, almost 450,000 people in the U.S. lost their lives following an opioid overdose; including incidents involving illicit and prescription drugs. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), of the 67,367 drug overdoses that occurred in the U.S. in 2018, nearly 70 percent involved an opioid.

“We believe our results lend further support that medical cannabis provided in a standardized protocol can lead to decreased pain and opioid usage, improved function, and quality of life measures, and even complete cessation of opioids in patients with chronic pain treated by opioids,” the research scientists added.

More promising studies on cannabis and opioid use

Highlighted in the recently published NORML fact sheet, titled, “Relationship Between Marijuana and Opioids,” the following author excerpts from 2020-published studies suggest that cannabis could play a role in reversing the opioid epidemic:

“We aimed to investigate the longitudinal association between frequency of cannabis use and illicit opioid use among people who use drugs (PWUD) experiencing chronic pain. We observed an independent negative association between frequent cannabis use and frequent illicit opioid use among PWUD with chronic pain. We found that people who used cannabis every day had about 50 percent lower odds of using illicit opioids every day compared to cannabis non-users.” Frequency of cannabis and illicit opioid use among people who use drugs and report chronic pain: A longitudinal analysis, PLOS One

“Patients with chronic pain, licensed to use MC [medical cannabis] in Israel reported weekly average pain intensity (primary outcome) and related symptoms before and at 1, 3, 6, 9 and 12 months following MC treatment initiation. At one year, average pain intensity declined from baseline by 20 percent. All other parameters improved by 10 to 30 percent. A significant decrease of 42 percent from baseline in morphine equivalent daily dosage of opioids was also observed.” Medical cannabis treatment for chronic pain: Outcomes and prediction of response, European Journal of Pain, 2020