Could pot combat opioid addictions?

An academic study suggests that pot could help addicts wean themselves off opioids

Could pot combat opioid addictions?
University of British Columbia researchers studied existing research on marijuana and found that it could help addicts get off opioids, according to a report from the Globe and Mail.

Clinical psychologist and cannabis researcher Zach Walsh, who led the study, said their research reveals many people are using cannabis to dial down their intake of heavier medications. However, he cautioned that more medical trials are needed to study how marijuana is helping opioid addicts.

“Most addiction professionals would agree, that cannabis is an easier habit to kick,” said Dr. Walsh. “So if you can transition to cannabis, then wean yourself off that; that might offer some opportunities for people.”

Dr. Walsh, along with five other researchers from UBC and two from US institutions, reviewed all studies involving mental health and marijuana published since 1960, and found a pronounced link between cannabis and opioids. Their study has been published in the latest issue of the Clinical Psychology Review, and he hopes that it will lead doctors to re-examine their notions on marijuana.

Prior to last year’s federal election, leading addiction experts in Canada urged the prescription of cannabis for neuropathic pain and other chronic conditions instead of opioids. More recently, BC declared a public health emergency following a spike in fatal opioid overdoses across the province. Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott is set to host a conference in Ottawa this weekend to address the opioid crisis that has spread nationwide.

Dr. Walsh said this is an opportune time to pursue clinical pot trials examining how and why the substitution effect happens, suggesting that marijuana placebos and traditional rehab methods be included as experimental controls. He added that taxes collected recreational marijuana sales, expected to start in 2018 at the earliest, could be used to finance such trials.

“This is like any other medicine: You want to look at the harms, you want to look at the benefits, you want to be specific to conditions and listen to your patients,” he said.

He thinks that the opportunity to lead in marijuana research is much wider for Canada, which is expected to legalize marijuana as early as next year, compared to the US, where federal pot prohibition is seen to stifle trials for several years. However, he also stressed the importance of finding ways to help mental health professionals move beyond the stigma of cannabis.

“There is currently not a lot of clear guidance on how mental-health professionals can best work with people who are using cannabis for medical purposes,” said Dr. Walsh.

Related stories:
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National opioid strategy urged to rein in over-prescriptions, overdoses