It seems another potential use for medicinal cannabis is to assist opioid users in kicking their habit.
Earlier this year, researchers at Columbia University assessed the usefulness of dronabinol in opioid withdrawal.
Dronabinol is a pharmaceutical formulation of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive compound in marijuana. Dronabinol is commonly used to treat loss of appetite in AIDS patients and also to address severe nausea and vomiting occurring in cancer patients as a result of chemotherapy.
According to an abstract of the Columbia University study, opioid withdrawal during inpatient phase was lower in the group given dronabinol compared to the placebo group. An additional finding emerged during the outpatient phase, which also involved extended release naltrexone.
“Post hoc analysis showed that the 32% of participants who smoked marijuana regularly during the outpatient phase had significantly lower ratings of insomnia and anxiety and were more likely to complete the 8-week trial.”
Cannabinoids have been shown to produce a variety of pharmacological effects very similar to those of opioids.
Last year, another study found US states permitting medical marijuana have a significantly lower level of opioid overdose mortality rates and recommended further investigation as to how medical cannabis laws may work with policies aimed at preventing opioid analgesic overdose.
The difference in mortality noted was significant – states with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8% lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate.
While swapping one drug for another may be considered a bad idea by some, if such a swap can save lives, improve lives, save money and reduce crime rates; then perhaps it’s a very worthwhile strategy – not just for addicts, but for the wider community.
The use of cannabis in connection with opioids may have another benefit – in the treatment of patients where opioids are legally prescribed. Medications based on opioids include hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine and codeine.
Given cannabinoids produce similar pharmacological effects, through combining cannabis with an opioid treatment it may enable lower doses of opioids to be used; resulting in less side effects for the patient and perhaps even lessening the potential threat of opioid addiction.