The coronavirus pandemic, despite everyone’s best efforts, has brought out the worst in some people. Coping with the loss of jobs, family, friends and life’s day-to-day activities has spurred an increase in unhealthy outcomes across demographics, including alcohol consumption, illicit drug use and mental health emergencies.
Of the substances that many Americans (and Canadians) turned to mitigate the impact of the pandemic, cannabis and opioids were two of the most common. While it’s been noted there has never been a reported death that could be attributed directly to cannabis, opioid overdose fatalities increased across the U.S. For example, data from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention indicates almost 70,000 people overdosed on opioids in 2020, many of them involving fentanyl.
Fentanyl, like many opioids, is addicting, and developing a dependency can have fatal consequences. Thankfully, two recent studies indicate that cannabis may offer users and those with addictions relief from both from their pain and their use of opioids.
Both THC and CBD have been lauded for their pain-stopping properties, but some say they generally work better together (the “entourage effect”). Based on how the two cannabinoids interact with distinct receptors of the body’s endocannabinoid system, using a combination of the two either by inhalation or ingestion is recommended for maximum efficacy.
The PLOS Medicine study reported that for some participants, using illicit drugs or misusing prescriptions for pain comes from a lack of access and education on alternative medicines, not from an affinity for a particular substance.
Those using cannabis daily were more likely to self-report using it for medicinal purposes, and higher rates of cannabis use coincided with lower opioid dependence, indicating cannabis could be a positive adjunct or replacement means of relief from chronic pain and the negative side effects of opioids.
Despite strides in legalization and de-stigmatization, many people in the U.S. still perceive cannabis as a gateway drug to harder, more dangerous substances.
While the two aforementioned studies are promising, both indicate a need for additional research and funding to determine the long-term implications of cannabis use for opioid users.
As more U.S. states and countries decriminalize cannabis, making it more accessible to both procure and study, it seems likely its full potential has not yet been realized.
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