Therapeutic Cannabis Users Less Likely to Use Opioids

29th May 2020

According to a recent study carried out by researchers in British Columbia, Canada, people who use cannabis for therapeutic purposes are less likely to use, and overdose on, opioids. The study’s findings add to a growing body of evidence supporting cannabis use as a harm reduction strategy.

The study, recently published in the PlosOne Journal, was undergone by researchers from the University of British Columbia (UBC) and the BC Centre on Substance Use (BCCSU). It assessed interviews form 900 illicit drug users in Vancouver, BC, who used cannabis between 2016 and 2018.

It was recorded that a large proportion of the participants use cannabis for therapeutic reasons. Participants reported a number of uses, for example, to relieve pain, improve sleep, address nausea. Although the majority of participants reported therapeutic benefit, some reported using cannabis for simply recreational purposes.

The Lead Author of the study, Stephanie Lake, a doctoral candidate at UBC’s School of Population and Public Health, claims that “we’re seeing more and more in our research that people are using cannabis for therapeutic reasons.”

She continued:

“We’re also seeing that, for some individuals in our study, this therapeutic use corresponds with either less use of illicit opioids or a reduced risk of overdose.”

The study claims that people who use cannabis for therapeutic purposes such as pain management or insomnia, were less likely to experience non-fatal overdoses of opioids. It also found that this group of cannabis users were less likely to inject heroin daily.

M.J. Milloy, PhD, a research scientist at BCCSU and Senior Author of the study, stated:

“The mounting evidence related to the motivations behind people’s cannabis use strongly suggests that improving access to cannabis for therapeutic purposes could help reduce overdose risk associated with illicit opioid use.”

Interestingly, the study also identified indicators of better physical and mental health among the “recreational” class of cannabis users, despite evidence of more structural vulnerabilities. These vulnerabilities included circumstances such as homelessness and incarceration.


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