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Cannabis Improves Outcomes in Opioid-Dependent Subjects Undergoing Treatment

Cannabis use is associated with improved outcomes in opioid-dependent subjects undergoing outpatient treatment, according to data published online ahead of print in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

Researchers at Columbia University assessed the use of cannabinoids versus a placebo in opioid-dependent subjects undergoing in-patient detoxification and outpatient treatment with naltrexone, an opiate receptor antagonist. Investigators reported that the administration of oral THC (dronabinol) during the detoxification process lowered the severity of subjects’ withdrawal symptoms compared to the placebo, but that these effects did not persist over the entire course of treatment.

By contrast, patients who consumed herbal cannabis during the outpatient treatment phase were more readily able to sleep, were less anxious and were more likely to complete their treatment as compared to those subjects who did not.

“One of the interesting study findings was the observed beneficial effect of marijuana smoking on treatment retention,” authors concluded. “Participants who smoked marijuana had less difficulty with sleep and anxiety and were more likely to remain in treatment as compared to those who were not using marijuana, regardless of whether they were taking dronabinol or placebo.”

The findings replicate those of two prior studies, one from 2001 and another from 2009, reporting greater treatment adherence among subjects who consumed cannabis intermittently during outpatient therapy.

Population data from states where medicinal cannabis is permitted report lower rates of opioid-abuse and mortality as compared to those states where the plant is prohibited. Clinical data and case reports also indicate that the adjunctive use of cannabis may wean patients from opiates while successfully managing their pain. Survey data of state-qualified medical cannabis patients demonstrates that subjects with access to the plant often substitute it for opioids because they perceive it to possess fewer adverse side effects.

Overdose deaths involving opioids have increased dramatically in recent years. While fewer than 4,100 opiate-induced fatalities were reported for the year 1999, by 2010 this figure rose to over 16,600, according to an analysis by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

An abstract of the study, “The effects of dronabinol during detoxification and the initiation of treatment with extended release naltrexone,” appears online HERE.

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