The substitution effect: Cannabis reduces prescription drug use by up to 17


More cannabis = fewer drugs. According to a new study, cannabis reduces the use of opioid medications up to 17 times.

Every year, new studies link the use of cannabis and a reduction in the use of opioid drugs. This statistic, which is repeated in all the studies that examine it, seems to be the main reason for pharmaceutical companies' concern about the spread of the use of plant components.

A new study performed by the University of New Mexico, in the United States and on 66 patients, (men and women aged 54 years with chronic pain, who regularly used opioids to treat these pain) reveals that thirty-seven of the patients began receiving cannabis between 2010 and 2015, while the remaining 29 patients, aged 60, continued to take medication. Among those who were not treated with cannabis, the percentage of drug use increased by 10%. The results show that cannabis is a possible solution for medical withdrawal.

The substitution effect

What result after 21 month of treatment? It is found that patients who used cannabis had 17 times more likely to stop taking opioids. They were also five times more likely to reduce the dose of opioids they consumed.

On average, those who started cannabis therapy reduced their dose by half. In patients who have not received medical cannabis, the use of opioid drugs has increased by more than 10%.

The use of cannabis has also had a positive effect on the lives of patients. Most reported improved levels of activity, social life and concentration. None of the patients treated with cannabis reported a negative effect.

After one and a half years of cannabis treatment, 40,5% of patients discontinued opioid therapy.

"If cannabis can be used as a substitute for at least prescription opioid drugs for some patients, lawmakers and the medical system should consider using cannabis as a tool to deal with the opioid epidemic," write Researchers.

Withdrawal of drugs with cannabis

This common phenomenon of decreased use of opiate drugs due to the use of cannabis is called in the professional language "substitution effect".
This "substitution effect" is, in the opinion of the researchers, a real potential aid to the detoxification of opioid drugs.
In a new article by a researcher from the Addictions Study Center of British Columbia in Canada, published a few weeks ago in the Harm Reduction Journal, the author sought to examine the possibility of using cannabis as a treatment for opioid dependence.

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The searcher, Philippe Lucas proposes three important operations to use cannabis for therapeutic purposes in order to reduce the use of opioids and to stop the cycle of deterioration into severe opioid dependence:

1: Before you start an opioid treatment for the treatment of chronic pain.
2.As a strategy to reduce the use of opioids in patients who are already using opioids.
3.As adjuvant therapy for methadone or suboxone therapy

North America is experiencing an opioid overdose crisis. Thus, these results suggest the possible role of cannabis in the reduction of opioids. However, interventions testing the risk-reducing potential of the cannabis substitution effect have been lacking so far.


Bureaucratic, legal and ideological obstacles to these interventions undoubtedly exist in some jurisdictions. However, it is encouraging to see acknowledgments of the potential impacts of medical cannabis on the use of opioids from traditionally conservative organizations such as the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), which recently acknowledged growing scientific support for the substitution effect on his website.

"Research on the effects of cannabis on the use of opioids in patients with pain is limited ... the data suggest that medical cannabis treatment may reduce the opioid dose needed to relieve pain."

The introduction of increasingly powerful opioids such as fentanyl and carfentanil on the market illicit drugs and the daily increase in opioid overdoses highlight the immediate need for innovative short- and long-term loyalty programs heroin maintenance, supervised consumption sites, decriminalization addiction, education towards increased awareness of the potential harms associated with the prescription and misuse of opioids.

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The growing body of research supporting the medical use of cannabis as an adjunct or substitute for opioids creates an evidence-based rationale for governments and health care providers.

Tags : AddictionDrugSide effectsopioidsSubstitution