Could cannabis help keep people in B.C. on treatment for opioid addiction?

People on opioid agonist treatment face lower risks of overdosing, BC Centre on Substance Use says

One month until marijuana becomes legal across the country, first-of-its-kind research is suggesting that daily use of cannabis could be a strong help in helping British Columbians stay on track with their addiction treatment.

Researchers with the BC Centre on Substance Use and the University of British Columbia interviewed 820 people undergoing opioid agonist treatment (OAT) over a 20-year period between December 1996 and March 2016.

According to the findings, released Thursday, those who said they used cannabis on a daily basis were 21 per cent more likely to still be in methadone or buprenorphine treatment at the six-month mark than non-cannabis users.

The latest findings add to an emerging body of evidence suggesting cannabis may have positive impacts on the health and well being of people who use other substances, especially opioids like oxycodone and fentanyl. The study comes at a time when an average of three people a day are dying of an opioid overdose each day across the province.

READ MORE: B.C. home to 1/3 of Canada’s overdose deaths in first 3 months of the year

READ MORE: Overdose deaths rise during income assistance week in July

“Untreated opioid use disorder is a key driver of the overdose crisis in B.C. and across North America,” said Dr. Eugenia Socias, research scientist at the centre and lead author of the study.

“With cannabis use common among people with opioid use disorder, these findings highlight the urgent need for clinical research to evaluate the therapeutic potential of cannabinoids as adjunctive treatment to OAT to address the escalating opioid overdose epidemic.”

People who stay on opioid agonist treatment face substantially lower risks of dying of an overdose or other causes compared to people who are out of treatment, according to the centre.

Previous research from the centre has also found that using cannabis every day can be linked to a lower risk of starting to inject drugs.

“The therapeutic benefits of cannabis are only just beginning to be understood,” said Dr. M-J Milloy, senior author and research scientist at the centre.

“This research suggests that cannabis could have a stabilizing impact for many patients on treatment, while also reducing the risk of overdose. Further examination of its therapeutic value and clinical application is clearly needed.”


@ashwadhwani
ashley.wadhwani@bpdigital.ca

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