Relationship Between Marijuana and Opioids

Cannabis access is associated with reduced rates of opioid use and abuse, opioid-related hospitalizations, opioid-related traffic fatalities, opioid-related drug treatment admissions, and opioid-related overdose deaths

  • "Between August 1 - December 31, 2016 a total of 2290 patients were enrolled in the program under the qualifying condition of intractable pain; 45 of these patients were previously enrolled in the program under an additional qualifying condition. This report focuses on the 2245 patients who were certified for intractable pain and enrolled in the program for the first time during this interval. … A large proportion (58%) of patients on other pain medications when they started taking medical cannabis were able to reduce their use of these meds according to health care practitioner survey results. Opioid medications were reduced for 38% of patients (nearly 60% of these reduced at least one opioid by ≥50%), benzodiazepines were reduced for 3%, and other pain medications were reduced for 22%. If only the 353 patients (60.2%, based on medication list in first Patient Self-Evaluation) known to be taking opioid medications at baseline are included, 62.6% (221/353) were able to reduce or eliminate opioid usage after six months."
  • "We find fairly strong and consistent evidence using difference-in-differences and event study methods that states providing legal access to marijuana through dispensaries reduce deaths due to opioid overdoses. … We provide complementary evidence that dispensary provisions lower treatment admissions for addiction to pain medications. ... In short, our findings that legally protected and operating medical marijuana dispensaries reduce opioid-related harms suggests that some individuals may be substituting towards marijuana, reducing the quantity of opioids they consume or forgoing initiation of opiates altogether. … At a minimum, however, our results suggest a potential overlooked positive effect of medical marijuana laws that support meaningful retail sales."

Cannabis access is associated with reductions in overall prescription drug spending

  • "We conducted a pragmatic historical cohort study to measure the effect of enrollment in a state-authorized United States' Medical Cannabis Program (MCP) on scheduled II-V drug prescription patterns. ... Our pragmatic preliminary study found that enrollment in the NM MCP was associated with significant reductions in scheduled II-V prescription drug activity and associated use of conventional pharmacies and prescribing providers. ... 34% of the MCP patients cease to exhibit any evidence of scheduled drug consumption and an additional 36% reduce the number of prescriptions filled for scheduled drugs by the last 6 months of our sample period. ... In conclusion, a shift from prescriptions for other scheduled drugs to cannabis may result in less frequent interactions with our conventional healthcare system, and potentially improved patient health."
  • "Using the variations across state MMLs between 1996 and 2014 of Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) this paper estimates the effects of MMLs on prescription drug utilization, with a focus on opioids. I find that MMLs lead to a $2.47 decrease in per person prescribed opioid spending among young adults (ages 18-39) over a year. Most of this decrease results from the intensive margin of use and MML states that allow home cultivation experience even larger decreases."
  • "Using quarterly data on all fee-for-service Medicaid prescriptions in the period 2007-14, we tested the association between those laws and the average number of prescriptions filled by Medicaid beneficiaries. We found that the use of prescription drugs in fee-for-service Medicaid was lower in states with medical marijuana laws than in states without such laws in five of the nine broad clinical areas we studied. If all states had had a medical marijuana law in 2014, we estimated that total savings for fee-for-service Medicaid could have been $1.01 billion."
  • "Using data on all prescriptions filled by Medicare Part D enrollees from 2010 to 2013, we found that the use of prescription drugs for which marijuana could serve as a clinical alternative fell significantly, once a medical marijuana law was implemented. National overall reductions in Medicare program and enrollee spending when states implemented medical marijuana laws were estimated to be $165.2 million per year in 2013."

The adjunctive use of cannabis augments the analgesic properties of opioids

  • "This double-blind, placebo-controlled, within-subject study determined if cannabis enhances the analgesic effects of low dose oxycodone using a validated experimental model of pain and its effects on abuse liability. ... Although active cannabis and 2.5 mg oxycodone alone failed to elicit analgesia, combined they increased pain threshold and tolerance. ... Smoked cannabis combined with an ineffective analgesic dose of oxycodone produced analgesia comparable to an effective opioid analgesic dose without significantly increasing cannabis’s abuse liability."
  • "Twenty-one individuals with chronic pain, on a regimen of twice-daily doses of sustained-release morphine or oxycodone were enrolled in the study and admitted for a 5-day inpatient stay. Participants were asked to inhale vaporized cannabis in the evening of day 1, three times a day on days 2-4, and in the morning of day 5. ... The extent of chronic pain was also assessed daily. ... Pain was significantly decreased after the addition of vaporized cannabis. We therefore concluded that vaporized cannabis augments the analgesic effects of opioids without significantly altering plasma opioid levels. The combination may allow for opioid treatment at lower doses with fewer side effects."

Patients often use cannabis as a substitute for other controlled substances, including prescription medications, alcohol, and tobacco

  • "The aim of this study is to characterize the epidemiology of cancer patients receiving medical cannabis treatment and describe the safety and efficacy of this therapy. … We analyzed the data routinely collected as part of the treatment program of 2970 cancer patients treated with medical cannabis between 2015 and 2017. … A total of 1013 patients responded to the medication chapter before and during treatment. At intake these patients took together 3982 regularly used drugs (medications they take regularly). 35.1% reported a decreased in their drugs consumption, mainly in the following families: other analgesics and antipyretics, hypnotics and sedatives, corticosteroids and opioids. Opioids, for example, was the most prevalent drug consumed by 344 patients (33.9%) at intake, 36% of them stopped taking opioids [and] 9.9% decreased [their] dose."
  • "We explored patterns of use of cigarette, alcohol, and illicit drugs in HIV-infected people with chronic pain who were prescribed opioid analgesics. ... In multivariate analyses, only cannabis use was significantly associated with lower odds of prescribed opioid analgesic use. Our data suggest that new medical cannabis legislation might reduce the need for opioid analgesics for pain management, which could help to address adverse events associated with opioid analgesic use."

Chronic pain patients are less likely to abuse medicinal cannabis as compared to opioids

Chronic pain patients are less likely to become depressed using medical cannabis