Opioids are one of the most dangerous and addictive substances of our time. In 2016, America saw 115 people die each day from opioid-related causes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, provisional figures for 2017 reveal that the death toll has now increased to more than 134 people a day. And yet, of the 20.2 million individuals who have a substance use disorder, fewer than 3.8 million receive treatment. For those who do receive treatment, an increasing body of evidence supports medication-assisted recovery to be the gold standard of treatment.
When used effectively, medication-assisted treatment has been shown to be an effective protocol and to have resulted in successful long-term outcomes. It can help people through withdrawal, it is proven to reduce relapse and overdose, and it can assist people transitioning from harmful drugs to go on and live healthy, functional lives.
Medication-assisted recovery is the approach supported by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Medication Assisted Treatment and Cannabis
In recent times, we have seen a new wave of medication-assisted treatment using cannabis with and without other pharmacotherapy, like buprenorphine. This approach has caused much controversy, even though research shows that it can be a vital tool as an exit drug from self-harming drug use. The innovative use of cannabis as a harm reduction approach to opioid addiction has proven to be successful in reducing deaths, assisting withdrawal from opioids, and significantly decreasing the use of highly addictive opioids to control pain.
Cannabis for MAT
In 2018, scientists published a new study in the Journal of Addiction Medicine that examined if cannabis use influences opioid outcomes and quality of life among patients taking buprenorphine.
With the understanding that several psychoactive substances — like alcohol or cocaine — can influence outcomes for patients receiving buprenorphine treatment, this study explored if cannabis had a similar effect. Conscious that prior studies have shown mixed results, scientists assessed the pattern of cannabis use among patients who had maintained buprenorphine treatment for more than three months. They also compared the dose of this medication, along with number and severity of cravings and the patients’ productivity and quality of life, between patients who had recently used cannabis and those who had not.
Researchers found that patients who had recently used cannabis were on significantly lower doses of buprenorphine than their peers, yet they did not experience more opioid cravings or withdrawals. The study also found that cannabis use did not influence illicit opioid use. The authors did caution that patients should be regularly reviewed to ensure that they use cannabis effectively. However, overall, they concluded:
“Cannabis use does not negatively influence opioid outcomes among patients receiving buprenorphine maintenance treatment. There is no difference in productivity and quality of life between buprenorphine-maintained individuals with recent cannabis use and those without recent cannabis use.”
Remedy Recovery and Cannabis for MAT
Remedy Recovery does not profess that medication, and the use of cannabis, to help people through treatment is right for all people. However, we do believe in exploration of all options, including abstinence. The question of medication is best addressed by the client and their doctor.
Click to learn more about the use of Cannabis in Medication-Assisted Treatment.