Increased Access To Therapeutic Cannabis Likely To Reduce Patients’ Use Of Opiates, Other Addictive Drugs

Victoria,  British Columbia: Regulating cannabis  access would provide patients with an effective treatment for chronic pain and likely  reduce morbidity associated with the use of prescription opiates and other  pharmaceuticals, according to a review published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs.

A researcher with the Centre for Addictions  Research of British Columbia reports that cannabis may be useful in the  treatment of chronic pain as well as certain substance abuse disorders, and  that it poses fewer risks to health than many conventional alternatives.

He writes: “When used in conjunction with opiates, cannabinoids lead  to a greater cumulative relief of pain, resulting in a reduction in the use of  opiates (and associated side-effects) by patients in a clinical setting. Additionally, cannabinoids can prevent the  development of tolerance to and withdrawal from opiates, and can even rekindle  opiate analgesia after a prior dosage has become ineffective. Novel research suggests that cannabis may be  useful in the treatment of problematic substance use. These findings suggest that increasing safe  access to medical cannabis may reduce the personal and social harms associated  with addiction, particularly in relation to the growing problematic use of  pharmaceutical opiates.”

The author continues: “Since both the potential harms of pharmaceutical opiates  and the relative safety of cannabis are well established, research on  substitution effect suggests that cannabis may be effective in reducing the use  and dependence of other substances of abuse such as illicit opiates, stimulants  and alcohol. As such, there is reason to  believe that a strategy aiming to maximize the therapeutic potential benefits  of both cannabis and pharmaceutical cannabinoids by expanding their  availability and use could potentially lead to a reduction in the prescription  use of opiates, as well as other potentially dangerous pharmaceutical  analgesics, licit and illicit substances, and thus a reduction in associated  harms.”

The author concludes, “Despite a lack of  regulatory oversight by federal governments in North America, community-based  medical cannabis dispensaries have proven successful at supplying patients with  a safe source of cannabis within an environment conducive to healing, and may  be reducing the problematic use of pharmaceutical opiates and other potentially  harmful substances in their communities.”

Between the years 1999 and 2007, over 65,000  people died from unintentional opioid analgesic overdose.

A previous review,  appearing in the Harm Reduction Journal in January, similarly argued, “Prescribing cannabis in place of opioids for  neuropathic pain may reduce the morbidity and mortality rates associated with  prescription pain medications and may be an effective harm reduction  strategy.”

In November, clinical  investigators at the University of California, San Francisco reported that  vaporized cannabis augments the analgesic effects of opiates in subjects prescribed morphine or oxycodone. Authors of the study surmised that cannabis-specific  interventions “may allow for opioid treatment at lower doses with fewer  [patient] side effects.”

For more information, please contact Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy  Director, at: paul@norml.org. Full text of the study, “Cannabis as an Adjunct to or Substitute for Opiates  in the Treatment of Chronic Pain,” appears in The Journal of Psychoactive  Drugs.

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