Chronic pain is an incredibly frustrating and tormenting condition, which leaves people unable to live their normal everyday life. There are some treatment options available, but many of them are not fully effective in some cases. And so people are often left with a choice between suffering and illicit opioid use. But scientists from the BC Centre on Substance Use say there is another option – cannabis.
Illicit opioid use is very dangerous. It leads to addiction and increased tolerance, which makes people take higher and higher doses of the drug. Eventually they find themselves at the edge of overdosing and this kind of situation often ends in death. Scientists interviewed more than 1,100 chronic pain sufferer, who were at highest risk of opioid overdose in Vancouver between 2014 and 2017 and found that daily cannabis reduces the odds of daily illicit opioid use. At the same time cannabis reduces the risk of overdosing on opioids.
Scientists found that people who used cannabis every day had nearly 50 % lower odds of using illicit opioids every day compared to those who don’t use cannabis. Meanwhile occasional use of cannabis did not seem to have such an effect. Cannabis helps reducing pain, has a calming effect and at the same time replaces opioids. In the light of an increasing number of opioid overdoses, this is a welcome change.
It is rather interesting, however, that in order to achieve such effects people had to use cannabis daily. Daily users were more likely to report therapeutic uses of cannabis, including addressing pain, stress, nausea, mental health, and symptoms of HIV or side effects of HIV antiretroviral therapy, or improving sleep. In other words, cannabis was achieving what some people were hoping opioids to do. These findings suggest that people who are suffering from chronic pain could be advised to use cannabis daily as a way to get rid of opioid addiction or at least as an ad-hoc, self-directed strategy to reduce the frequency of opioid use.
Stephanie Lake, lead author of the study, said: “These findings point to a need to design formal clinical evaluations of cannabis-based strategies for pain management, opioid use disorder treatment supports, and wider harm reduction initiatives”.
Scientists already know what they are going to do next. Now they want to launch controlled trials to see whether daily cannabis use could help people with opioid use disorder staying on their treatment. If cannabis could be used as a substitute for opioids in these addiction cases, it would be a major improvement in public health situation. It would also allow these people to start getting their life in order.