For those engaged in opioid agonist therapy (OAT), cannabis could be an effective way to reduce fentanyl exposure.
That is the takeaway from a new study published this month in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.
Drawing data from “two community-recruited prospective cohorts of people who use drugs in Vancouver, Canada,” the researchers from the University of British Columbia, Center of Substance Use said they studied “the relationship between cannabis use and recent fentanyl exposure” among OAT participants between the years 2016 and 2018.
OAT is “an effective treatment for addiction to opioid drugs such as heroin, oxycodone, hydromorphone (Dilaudid), fentanyl and Percocet,” according to the Canadian research hospital Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, that “involves taking the opioid agonists methadone (Methadose) or buprenorphine (Suboxone)” as part of an effort to prevent withdrawal and reduce cravings.
The research published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence was based on “819 participants on OAT who contributed 1989 observations over the study period.” According to the researchers, fentanyl exposure was “common.”
“At the baseline interview, fentanyl was detected in a majority of participants,” the researchers wrote, saying that it was detected in 53 percent of the participants, but that overall “cannabis use was independently associated with reduced likelihood of being recently exposed to fentanyl.”
“[W]e 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. 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,” the researchers wrote, as quoted by NORML.
The Role of Cannabis In The Opioid Crisis
The study is the latest in a growing body of research to suggest that cannabis may be an effective weapon in the fight against the opioid crisis. And as the researchers in the aforementioned study noted, the “ongoing opioid overdose crisis is driven largely by exposure to illicitly-manufactured fentanyl.”
In July, a study published in the journal Systematic Reviews found “a much higher reduction in opioid dosage, reduced emergency room visits, and hospital admissions for chronic non-cancer pain by MC [medical cannabis] users, compared to people with no additional use of MC.”
“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,” the researchers of that study wrote.
And in June, research published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology found “behavioral economic evidence that 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.