Study: Cannabis Use Associated with Fewer Opioid Overdoses Among Patients Enrolled in Methadone Maintenance

Seattle, WA: Patients enrolled in treatment for opioid use disorder (OUD) who consume cannabis are less likely to suffer from a non-fatal opioid overdose than are non-users, according to data published in the journal Substance Use & Misuse.

Researchers with the University of Washington, the University of Rhode Island, and Oregon’s Health & Science University evaluated the association between frequent cannabis use and non-fatal opioid overdoses among 446 subjects with OUD who were enrolled in a methadone maintenance treatment (MMT) program. 

Investigators reported that “individuals enrolled in MMT … who reported using cannabis at least once a week over the past month were 71 percent less likely to report a non-fatal opioid overdose over the past year compared to those who reported infrequent or no cannabis use.”

They concluded: “To our knowledge, this is the first study to examine the association between cannabis use and opioid overdoses in individuals. The results provide preliminary evidence of a link between cannabis use and lower prevalence of opioid overdose among people enrolled in MMT. … Methodological limitations caution against causal interpretation of this association. However, these preliminary findings encourage additional research to understand how cannabis use and non-fatal opioid overdose are related.”

Dozens of prior studies have previously documented a decrease in subjects’ use of opioids following their initiation of cannabis therapy. In February, data published in the British Medical Journal reported that greater cannabis access via storefront dispensaries and retailers is associated with declines in opioid-related deaths. Other studies have reported that cannabis use is associated with greater opioid treatment retention rates and that it may help to mitigate opioid-related cravings among dependent subjects.

Full text of the study, “Cannabis use and non-fatal opioid overdose among patients enrolled in methadone maintenance treatment,” appears in Substance Use & Misuse. Additional information is available from the NORML fact sheet, “Relationship Between Marijuana and Opioids.