A Solution to the Opioid Crisis?


A new study finds that patients many patients prefer cannabis to prescribed opioids.

One possible solution to the opioid epidemic is to reduce the prescribing rates for opioids. But can this be accomplished while still caring for patients who require pain management?

A new study from the University of British Columbia at Okanagan, published online ahead of its printing in the April issue of The International Journal of Drug Policy, may provide the answer. The study found that many patients consider cannabis to be an effective alternative to prescription drugs.

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The study followed 271 Canadian patients with pain management, mental health, and gastrointestinal issues who were prescribed medical cannabis. When surveyed, 63% reported using cannabis instead of prescription drugs. 30% reported substituting cannabis for pharmaceutical opioids, 16% for benzodiazepines, and 12% for antidepressants. Additionally, 25% of patients reportedly substituted cannabis for alcohol, 12% for cigarettes/tobacco, and 3% for illicit drugs.

In 2014, Canada allowed over 30 licensed producers to legally sell cannabis to patients under the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPC), which according to a University of British Columbia press release amounts to over 65,000 patients. MMPC was recently replaced in Canada by the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations. The survey was funded by Tilray, one of the licensed producers. This is said to be the first comprehensive survey of patients enrolled in the program.

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Study lead Philippe Lucas, vice president of Patient Research and Access at Tilray, and a graduate fellow at the University of Victoria Centre for Addictions Research of BC, said that the reasons patients may prefer cannabis include reduced side effects, better symptom management, and a feeling that cannabis is safer than prescription drugs.

"Further research into how well cannabis works compared to the accepted front-line treatments is warranted," says UBC Associate Professor Zach Walsh, PhD, co-author of the study. "Additionally, long-term research into the potential impact of the cannabis substitution on the quality of patient's lives is ongoing."

Lucas P, Walsh Z. Medical cannabis access, use, and substitution for prescription opioids and other substances: A survey of authorized medical cannabis patients. Intern J Drug Policy. 2017;42:30–35. doi:10.1016/j.drugpo.2017.01.011.

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