Gateway to sobriety? Cannabis could reduce fentanyl use and overdose risk, new study finds

New research from British Columbia (BC) in Canada has found that moderate to heavy cannabis use among opioid addiction patients may greatly improve their treatment while limiting their overall opioid exposure. 

Published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, the recent study by researchers from the BC Centre on Substance Use (BCCSU) and University of British Columbia (UBC) found, while a number of participants had a surprising, and often unintentional, additional exposure to opioids, those who took cannabis regularly often had better treatment outcomes. 

Roughly 53 percent of the 819 study participants were willfully or unintentionally using fentanyl while undergoing treatment for opioid addiction, which deploys recovery treatment drugs like methadone or naloxone, designed to wean people off unregulated and extremely dangerous opioids sold on the black market. 

As a result of this additional exposure, on top of their treatment medications, these people were unwittingly, or otherwise, at a far greater risk of overdose through their supplementary fentanyl use. 

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However, the researchers found that those with THC (the psychoactive component of cannabis) in their systems, identified through urine tests, were 10 percent less likely to have fentanyl in their systems, putting them at lower overall risk of overdose.

“These new findings suggest that cannabis could have a stabilizing impact for many patients on treatment, while also reducing the risk of overdose,” said Dr. Eugenia Socías, lead author of the study.

Socías added that more research is needed to evaluate the wider, long-term potential of cannabinoids working in tandem with existing opioid addiction treatments to reduce the risk of overdose and relapse and yield better overall public health outcomes, especially in at-risk groups. 

Without opioid agonist treatments (OAT), research suggests that in British Columbia alone, overdose deaths would be 2.5 times higher. 

Programs aimed at keeping patients on OAT programs have additional, ancillary benefits like reduced risk of contracting HIV and other infections, which reduce overall health outcomes. 

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According to this latest research, cannabis may in fact be the bridge which can help keep users on OAT for longer, improving their survival rates and overall health. 

Patients beginning OAT who reported daily cannabis use were 21 percent more likely to stay the course after six months than non-cannabis using patients, indicating a potential stabilizing impact of moderate to heavy cannabis use for those at high risk of addiction relapse and overdose. 

The preliminary findings are so promising, in fact, that the Canadian Institutes of Health Research recently approved a pilot study to examine the efficacy of cannabis use as a support therapy to work alongside OAT. 

“This study will help us understand if and how cannabis might have a role in addressing the overdose crisis,” says Dr. M-J Milloy, study co-author and the Canopy Growth professor of cannabis science at UBC, who will lead the new study alongside Dr. Socías.

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Source:RT World News

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