Is Pot a Good Substitute for Opioids? Dueling Studies Disagree

(CN) – Scientists continue to debate on whether cannabis can serve as a meaningful opioid substitute, with two conflicting studies published Tuesday further fanning the flames of contention.

(Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP, File)

According to a study from PLOS Medicine, using cannabis on a regular basis can generally decrease the likelihood of using opioid medication on a daily and potentially dangerous basis. A statistical model showed that regular, everyday cannabis use to treat chronic pain could lower the odds of everyday illicit opioid use by half compared to those who did not use cannabis at all.

M-J Milloy, senior author of the study and research scientist at the BC Centre on Substance Abuse in Vancouver, British Columbia, suggests there is enough data to say the link between increased cannabis use and a decreased chance of opioid use is real – and that some are already using cannabis as a less risky opioid alternative.

“These findings, in combination with past research, again demonstrate that people are using cannabis to help manage many different conditions, including pain. And in some cases, they’re using cannabis in place of opioids,” Milloy said with the release of the study.

Another study, however, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, tells a significantly different story.

That study’s authors report that despite continued chatter on the possibility of using cannabis as a replacement for opioids, evidence suggests that such a connection simply does not exist yet. The study conducted an analysis of several studies regarding cannabis use in opioid treatment therapies and found cannabis didn’t play any meaningful role in curbing inappropriate opioid use.

Zainab Samaan, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at McMaster University, said the study shows there is not enough evidence to support the notion that cannabis could function as an opioid replacement.

“We recommend caution when considering cannabis as a substitute for opioid use in the context of opioid addiction as there is a lot of talk and perceptions despite the lack of high-quality evidence. Our study showed that using cannabis did not change opioid use in this population,” Samaan said in an email.

Both studies, despite their opposing results, nevertheless agree on one key thing: further research to explore these connections and discover if and how they function are desperately needed to understand this complex issue moving forward.

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