Study: Cannabis Use Associated with Reduced Risk of Fentanyl Exposure Among Opioid-Dependent Subjects Seeking Treatment

Vancouver, Canada: Subjects engaged in opioid agonist therapy (OAT) who also consume cannabis are less likely than non-users to have any recent exposure to fentanyl, according to data published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

A team of investigators affiliated with the University of British Columbia, Center of Substance Use assessed opioid use patterns in a cohort of 819 subjects engaged in the use of OAT (e.g., methadone and/or naltrexone). Participants in the study were subject to urine drug testing and also completed a series of interviews.

Researchers reported: “[R]ecent use of cannabis was associated with reduced odds of recent exposure to fentanyl. … This negative association persisted after adjustment for a broad range of covariates, including concurrent use of other illicit substance.”

They concluded: “[W]e found that among more than 800 participants on OAT in Vancouver, Canada, use of cannabis was longitudinally associated with a substantially lower risk of being exposed to fentanyl. Given the magnitude of the overdose crisis in the U.S. and Canada and the substantial contributions of fentanyl to the burden of overdose morbidity and mortality, findings from this study support the experimental evaluation of cannabinoids as a potential adjunct therapy to OAT to improve clinical outcomes, particularly to reduce the risk of relapse to illicit opioid use (i.e., fentanyl) and associated risk of overdose and death.”

Dozens of studies have previously identified an association between cannabis access and reduced opioid use, while more limited data indicates that cannabinoids may reduce opioid-specific cravings and increase treatment retention rates in opioid-dependent subjects seeking treatment.

Full text of the study, “Cannabis use is associated with reduced risk of exposure to fentanyl among people on opioid agonist therapy during a community-wide overdose crisis,” appears in Drug and Alcohol Dependence. Additional information on cannabis and opioid use patterns is available from the NORML fact sheet, “Relationship Between Marijuana and Opioids.”