DEC 07, 2023 11:50 AM PST

Cannabis Ineffective for Reducing Long-term Opioid Use

WRITTEN BY: Annie Lennon


A new study found that cannabis use does not reduce long-term problematic use of opioids. The corresponding study was published in The American Journal of Psychiatry

Cannabis use is common among people with opioid use disorder. The New York State Department of Health even announced opioid use as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana in 2018 due to its potential to treat pain and reduce the risk of dependence and fatal overdose. However, how cannabis use affects opioid use remains unclear. 

“There are claims that cannabis may help decrease opioid use or help people with opioid use disorders keep up with treatment,” said lead author of the present study, Dr Jack Wilson, from The Matilda Centre for Research in Mental Health and Substance Use, at the University of Sydney, in a statement

“But it’s crucial to note those studies examine short- term impact, and focus on treatment of chronic pain and pain management, rather than levels of opioid use in other contexts,” he added.

For the current study, Dr. Wilson and colleagues recruited 615 people with heroin dependence, many of whom also used cannabis. Heroin and cannabis use were assessed at the beginning of the study and at various time points over the next 18-20 years. 

Ultimately, the researchers found that increased cannabis use 24 months after the study began was linked to increased heroin use 12 months later. They further found that an increase in heroin use at three and 24 months was linked to decreased cannabis use at 12 and 36 months. They noted that there were no other significant associations. 

“Our investigation shows that cannabis use remains common among this population, but it may not be an effective long term strategy for reducing opioid use,” noted Dr. Wilson. 

The researchers urge caution about relying on cannabis to reduce problematic opioid use or to manage the opioid crisis, especially given increasing cannabis legalization and growing recognition of cannabis as a therapeutic product. 

“Opioid use disorders are complex and unlikely to be resolved by a single treatment. The best way to support them is evidence-based holistic approaches that look at the bigger picture, and include physical, psychological, and pharmacotherapy therapies,” concluded Dr. Wilson. 


Sources: The University of SydneyThe American Journal of Psychiatry

About the Author
Bachelor's (BA/BS/Other)
Annie Lennon is a writer whose work also appears in Medical News Today, Psych Central, Psychology Today, and other outlets.
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