There has been ground-breaking research in British Columbia in Canada that has discovered that moderate to heavy cannabis consumption in opioid addicted patients could substantially improve the treatment of their addiction and underlying health problems while also limiting their overall opioid exposure.
The study was published in the journal named the Drug & Alcohol Dependence and the recent study undertaken by researchers at the British Columbia Centre on Substance Use (BCCSU) and the University of British Columbia, found that a large proportion of patients had a surprising and frequently unintentional exposure to opioids. The study also found that those who regularly used cannabis had much improved treatment outcomes.
Approximately 53% of the 819 people who partook in the study were wilfully or unintentionally using fentanyl while going through the treatment process for their opioid addiction. Treatments for opioid addiction often deploy drugs such as naloxone and methadone which are designed to wean people off dangerous and unregulated opioids that are sold on the black market. These opioids can be extremely dangerous because users can be unaware of the true dose, they are taking which can often lead to overdoses or hospitalisation.
Due to this additional exposure in conjunction with their treatment medication, those using opioids were unwittingly at a significantly greater risk of overdosing because of their supplementary use of fentanyl.
The study discovered that those with THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) which is the psychoactive element of the cannabis plant and is the molecule that cause the infamous high associated with cannabis, were less likely to take fentanyl. The THC levels of patients which was identified through urine tests were 10% less likely to have fentanyl in their bodies which ultimately reduces the risk of overdosing. These findings imply that cannabis may have a stabilising effect for patients undergoing opioid treatment and reduce the chance of a patient overdosing.
There is still a tremendous amount of research that needs to be carried out to properly evaluate the long-term potential of using cannabinoids to work in tandem with existing opioid addiction treatments, to ensure that the risk of overdose and relapse is dramatically decreased. If this is achieved, it will lead to better public health outcomes and decrease the damage opioids have on society and national health systems.
Without opioid agonist treatments, the research concludes that in British Columbia the death rate from overdosing would be 2.5x higher.
The opioid programs that have the aim of keeping patients off opioids have additional and ancillary benefits like reduced risk of contracting HIV and other infections. Avoiding these infections obviously lead to better health and reduce the risk of death.
This research illustrates that cannabis may be a stop gap that can help users fight their opioid addiction and in turn improve the overall survival rate and the quality of people’s health.
The patients that were starting their opioid addiction treatment that reported daily cannabis use were 21% more likely to stick with their treatment for 6 months longer than patients who did not use cannabis. This indicates that there is a potential stabilising impact of moderate to heavy cannabis use for those who are at risk of addiction relapse and overdose.
The initial findings are promising, and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research recently allowed a pilot study examining the efficacy of cannabis use as a therapy to operate alongside Opioid Addiction Treatments. This research should allow scientists to ascertain whether cannabis could have a prominent role in addressing the opioid crisis and the associated deaths due to overdose or other factors caused by opioids.