Using cannabis every day made illicit opioid users less likely to turn their drugs, a new study suggests.
Researchers found that daily cannabis users were two times less to use illegal drugs like heroin or painkillers they got from the street or were not prescribed to them, to treat their aches.
Daily marijuana users were also more likely to report several therapeutic uses of pot such as for treating nausea and improving sleep.
The team, from the British Columbia Centre on Substance Use (BCCSU) and the University of British Columbia (UBC), says the findings indicate that cannabis might not only be a good way to alleviate pain, but that it could reduce the number of people using opioids.
In 2017, more than 70,200 Americans died from drug overdoses after taking illicit drugs like fentanyl, prescription painkillers like OxyContin, or a combination of the two categories.
Past research has suggested that medical marijuana could be used alongside opioids, or replace them entirely, to relieve pain.
But there are still many questions on the safety and efficacy of such treatment regimens, and study results on the relationship between cannabis use and opioid misuse have varied wildly.
In fact, another study, released earlier today by researchers at McMaster University, found that cannabis use did not reduce opioid use during treatment for addiction and dependence.
And within 24 hours of the McMaster study’s publication, the UBC study suggests just the opposite.
For the new UBC study, published in PLOS Medicine, the team interviewed more than 1,100 people in Vancouver, Canada, between 2014 and 2017.
The group, according to the researchers, was at highest risk of overdosing on opioids because its members had been using the drugs to manage major or chronic pain.
Participants who used pot every day were 50 percent less likely to use illicit opioids every day compared to those who didn’t use cannabis.
‘There is certainly a lot of plausibility around cannabis as a pain killer, but 50 percent is pretty substantial.’
But using pot only seemed to curtail opioid use if the participants toked or ate cannabis every day.
Those who only used cannabis on occasion didn’t reap the same benefits for reducing their overdose risks.
Additionally, daily cannabis users were reporting positive side effects that may be associated with their pot use.
They said marijuana also helped them improve their sleep quality, and relived them of stress, nausea, symptoms of HIV or side effects of HIV antiretroviral therapy.
‘There is preliminary evidence that states with legal cannabis access have lower overdose deaths and our study fills in some of the gaps of why that might be,’ said Dr Milloy.
‘This is more evidence that, for some people they can reduce their use of illicit opioid intake and reduce risk of overdose. Our scientists just have to figure out if there is a cause and effect and how to optimize it.’
For future research, the team plans to conduct studies on whether or not cannabis could help people diagnosed with opioid addiction and dependence stay on treatment, and if pot could even be a substitute for opioid use.