Updated on January 3, 2019. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Richard Koffler, MD, Board Certified Physiatrist
Opiate abuse is considered an epidemic by the CDC. Because of this, both the medical community and scientific researchers are attempting to find an effective method for patients to combat opiate dependency. The most common methods are drug replacement therapy or rapid detoxification coupled with counseling. However, both treatments have a high rate of relapse.
For patients using opiates to treat painful conditions, taking them off these medications can severely impact their health and well-being. Medical marijuana can be used in conjunction with opiates to ensure larger doses are not required. It can also help to wean patients off opiates and treat their symptoms during that process. Cannabis has been shown to increase the success of getting patients off heavy-duty opiates.
The goal of this 2006 research was to study the impact cannabis had on patients who were being treated for both substance abuse and psychiatric disorders. The clinical trial included patients who were all using cocaine, but some of the patients also used cannabis consistently, some used it only in moderation and others abstained from marijuana use. The researchers wanted to find if the use of cannabis improved the patient’s retention rate for treatment of their cocaine dependency.
The findings, which were published in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, saw that there was a link between patients’ success with cocaine dependency treatments and the intermittent use of marijuana. Those who used cannabis in moderation were able to better stick with the treatment program than those who didn’t use it all or those who used it regularly.
Naltrexone therapy is a drug treatment that blocks opiate receptors in a patient’s brain. Although theoretically, it should be an effective treatment for opiate dependency, poor adherence has made its success extremely limited. A 2009 study sought to find out if the intermittent use of cannabis would improve a patient’s ability to complete naltrexone therapy successfully.
The opiate-dependent patients who participated in the trial were divided into three groups: patients who used cannabis regularly, those who used it intermittently and those who abstained. Those who used marijuana moderately showed a better retention rate for the therapy.
Because of the seriousness of opioid dependence to our national health, effective treatments for those who struggle with this are essential. This study concluded cannabis could play a key role in helping people who are undergoing treatment for opioid dependency. However, it also stated further research on this subject is required.
A 2013 research study sought to show how cannabis would negatively impact drug replacement therapy for patients who were dependent on opiates. However, the results were quite different than they expected. Methadone maintenance treatment, a drug replacement therapy, was used in this study to wean patients off opiates.
Researchers conducted this study out of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. They sought to show how cannabis would negatively impact methadone maintenance treatments. They focused on patients undergoing these treatments who admitted to marijuana use. Not only did those who used cannabis stick to their therapy treatments, but they also suffered fewer withdrawal symptoms than patients who didn’t use marijuana.
The results of this research study were published in The American Journal on Addictions. They concluded cannabinoids might be able to alleviate symptoms in those undergoing opiate withdrawals. However, they also felt further research is required.
Patients struggling with opiate dependency should not do so alone. It’s important to speak with your doctor to learn about your treatment options. One solution may be to use medical marijuana to help treat your withdrawal symptoms.
If you feel cannabis could be an effective treatment option for you, speak to a medical marijuana doctor in your state today.