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Study finds no link between marijuana use and starting or stopping opioids

By Dennis Thompson, HealthDay News
Cannabis isn't a gateway drug that can spark a person's desire to try narcotics, a new study found.File Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI
Cannabis isn't a gateway drug that can spark a person's desire to try narcotics, a new study found.File Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo

There's no link at all between weed use and a person's use of illicit opioids, one way or the other, a new review concludes.

Cannabis isn't a gateway drug that can spark a person's desire to try narcotics, results show.

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On the other hand, weed also isn't effective in helping wean addicts off opioids, researchers said.

These results have significant implications for U.S. opioid treatment programs, the researchers noted.

Some programs require abstinence from weed for a person to receive treatment, while others use marijuana as a means to treat opioid addiction.

"Clarifying how cannabis and opioids interact is crucial if we are to equip healthcare professionals to provide evidence-based addiction treatment, prevent overdose deaths and save lives," said researcher Gabriel Costa, with the University of Ribeirão Preto in Brazil.

About 120 people die each day from drug overdoses related to opioid addiction, the researchers said in background notes. Opioid use disorder and related deaths cost the U.S. economy more than $1 trillion a year.

Cannabis is now legally recognized for its medicinal use in 37 states and Washington, D.C. While pain remains the most common reason for prescribing medical marijuana, an increasing number of states are adding opioid treatment to their lists of approved conditions.

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For this study, Costa and colleagues combined the results of 10 previous studies involving nearly 8,400 people prescribed medication to treat opioid use disorder - either buprenorphine, methadone or naltrexone.

These folks' non-medical use of opioids was tracked as part of the studies, as well as their use of cannabis, over an average 10-month period.

The combined data found no link between weed use and rates of illicit opioid use, researchers said.

The new study was published Tuesday in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse.

"Our finding questions the ineffective practice of enforcing cannabis abstinence as a condition to offer lifesaving medications for opioid use disorder," senior researcher Dr. Joao De Aquino, an assistant professor of psychiatry with Yale School of Medicine, said in a journal news release.

"Our data suggests healthcare systems should instead adopt individualized treatment approaches which take into account each patient's circumstances," De Aquino added. "This would include assessing cannabis use disorder, a problematic pattern [of] cannabis use that affects a person's well-being and ability to function, addressing pain management needs and treating co-occurring psychiatric conditions, such as depression and anxiety."

More clinical trials are needed to provide a thorough assessment of the safety and effectiveness of cannabis to ease symptoms of opioid addiction, De Aquino added.

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More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about marijuana.

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