In a groundbreaking review, researchers from the University of Ribeirão Preto in Brazil have debunked the long-standing belief that cannabis serves as a gateway drug to illicit opioids. Contrary to popular assumptions, the study, published in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, found no evidence supporting a connection between marijuana use and an individual’s likelihood to engage in illicit opioid consumption.
The comprehensive review analyzed data from 10 previous studies involving nearly 8,400 individuals undergoing medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder, utilizing medications such as buprenorphine, methadone, or naltrexone. Over an average period of 10 months, researchers tracked both the non-medical use of opioids and cannabis consumption among the participants.
The results challenge the conventional wisdom that cannabis can trigger a person’s interest in narcotics or serve as an effective tool in weaning addicts off opioids. Specifically, the study negates the idea that enforcing cannabis abstinence should be a prerequisite for individuals seeking treatment for opioid use disorder.
Dr. Joao De Aquino, senior researcher and assistant professor of psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine, emphasized the need to reevaluate treatment practices in light of these findings. The study questions the effectiveness of programs that mandate cannabis abstinence for individuals undergoing opioid addiction treatment. Instead, it advocates for individualized treatment approaches that consider the unique circumstances of each patient, including assessing cannabis use disorder, addressing pain management needs, and treating co-occurring psychiatric conditions like depression and anxiety.
The implications of this research are particularly significant given the current opioid epidemic in the United States, where approximately 120 people die each day from drug overdoses related to opioid addiction. The economic burden of opioid use disorder and related deaths surpasses $1 trillion annually.
The study’s lead researcher, Gabriel Costa, highlighted the importance of clarifying the relationship between cannabis and opioids to equip healthcare professionals with evidence-based addiction treatment strategies. The call for more clinical trials underscores the need for a comprehensive understanding of the safety and effectiveness of cannabis in alleviating symptoms of opioid addiction.
As the legal recognition of cannabis for medicinal use continues to expand across the United States, these findings challenge existing norms and pave the way for more nuanced and individualized approaches to opioid addiction treatment.