Easier access to cannabis could reduce the need for patients to use opioids to manage their pain, research from the B.C. Centre on Substance Use suggests.
The study, released Tuesday in PLOS Medicine, found that daily cannabis use was linked to “significantly lower odds of daily illicit opioid use.”
Researchers looked at a group of 1,152 people in Vancouver who reported substance use and major or chronic pain between June 2014 and December 2017. They found those people who used cannabis daily were nearly 50 per cent less likely to use opioids to manage pain. People who used cannabis occasionally were neither more or less likely to use opioids than non-pot users.
Study results suggest that daily cannabis use in people with chronic pain could be an “ad-hoc, self directed” strategy to reduce their reliance on opioids, even as B.C. went through the worst years of the overdose crisis. In 2014, there were 338 deaths linked to opioid overdoses across the province. By 2016, that number near tripled to 992 deaths and in 2017, the second-worst year on record, the number of deaths spiked to 1495.
“These findings point to a need to conduct experimental evaluations of cannabis-based strategies for pain management, opioid use disorder treatment supports, and wider harm reduction initiatives,” says Stephanie Lake, a doctoral candidate at UBC’s School of Population and Public Health, and the lead author of the study.