Research Backs Cannabis as Possible Opioid Substitute

In the growing fight against the opioid crisis in the United States, legislators and researchers alike are searching to discover effective addiction treatments. It has been difficult for many to make any headway on this topic given the controversy and uncertainty, yet researchers are becoming more and more convinced that cannabis may be a key player in saving lives.

A team of researchers at the University of British Columbia conducted a study on medical marijuana patients to determine how effective cannabis was in deterring alcohol and drug use. The subjects were a mix of over 450 patients with and without documented addictions to alcohol and/or illicit drugs. The study was conducted as part of an ongoing survey, the Cannabis Access for Medical Purposes Survey (CAMPS), led by head researcher Dr. Zachary Walsh.

The study explained that its purpose was to “examine the stability of the substitution effect with regard to treatment history among medical cannabis users.” According to previous research referenced in this study, psychoactive substitution occurs when the availability of one substance affects the use of another.

Participants volunteered for the study, and the data was collected through either an online or in-person survey. The survey included questions on previous alcohol or drug use, desired outcome of medical cannabis use, previous treatment for substance abuse and substitution of marijuana for other substances.

According to the survey results, over 55 percent of participants indicated that they had at some point substituted marijuana for alcohol and/or illicit drugs. Patients who had previously undergone treatment for substance abuse were more likely to substitute marijuana for drugs, and likewise, patients with no previous treatment were more likely to substitute marijuana for alcohol.

Some of the conditions receiving the highest substitution rates included gastrointestinal problems, spinal pain and mental health. Patients suffering from gastrointestinal problems reported the highest rates, with 65.6 percent reporting that they had substituted marijuana for alcohol and other substances to alleviate pain. Multiple Sclerosis patients reported the highest non-substitution rates. Overall, for every medical condition listed in the study, over 30 percent of patients indicated they had used cannabis as a substitute.

These findings indicate that cannabis may indeed be used as a less harmful alternative for alcohol and illicit drugs. Results showing that “substitution was generally consistent across illnesses and among those with and without treatment histories suggests good generalizability of substitution effects.” It also highlights the importance of further research on how marijuana could interact with other psychoactive substances.

This study will hopefully serve to push cannabis to the forefront as a possible treatment to lethal opioid addictions sweeping the nation. Pushback is certainly expected from many fronts, as marijuana legalization remains hotly debated on both the political and scientific front. However, as the issue becomes more serious, advocates can hope for every possible angle of cannabis treatment to be explored.

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