HomeNewsMedical Cannabis Linked to Lower Prescription Opioid Dosage

Medical Cannabis Linked to Lower Prescription Opioid Dosage

CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy researchers suggest medical cannabis could help patients on long-term opioid treatment to lower their dosages.

The use and abuse of opioids, legally acquired and otherwise, continue to pose a major challenge in the USA – so much so that the situation is often referred to as an epidemic. Overdose deaths involving opioids (illicit and prescribed) in 2021 were the highest in US history, with more than 80 000 deaths.

With many patients taking high dosages of  prescription opioids for extended periods, the hunt has been on for alternatives and medical cannabis has often been put forward as a tool.

Lending support to this, New York State and CUNY researchers have found an association between medical cannabis use for chronic pain for thirty days or more and a reduction in prescription dosages among patients on long-term opioid therapy.

Their study involved comparing the average daily morphine milligram equivalent (MME) of those who received medical cannabis for more than 30 days against those who received 30 days or less. Eight months after patients started receiving medical cannabis it was observed among those in the 30 days+ category:

  • MME less than 50:  prescription opioid dosages reduced 48% from baseline
  • MME of 50 to 89: a 47% reduction from baseline
  • MME of 90 or greater: a 51% reduction from baseline

For those with shorter medical cannabis usage durations, the reductions were 4%, 9% and 14% respectively. But even at those levels, the reduction was significant.

“These findings have important implications for clinicians and policy makers,” said co-author Dr. Danielle Greene of CUNY SPH. “They provide evidence for another tool to be used in response to the opioid epidemic.”

Dr. Greene noted previous research indicating abrupt disruption (“cold turkey”) of prescription opioids among patients on high dosages and long-term therapy can have some devastating effects; including turning to illicit drugs, overdose, and self-harm. Her study suggests “a more humane” approach to lowering prescription dosages and perhaps reducing such risks.

The study has been published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Network Open, and adds to the growing amount of evidence both anecdotal and scientific of the potential for medical cannabis to help address the opioid epidemic in the USA, and elsewhere.

Terry Lassitenaz
Terry Lassitenaz writes exclusively for Hemp Gazette and has done so since the site launched in 2015. He has a special interest in the political arena relating to medical cannabis, particularly in Australia, and addressing the many myths surrounding this incredibly useful plant. You can contact Terry here.

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