Marijuana and Opioids—What’s the Link?

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The Marijuana and Opioids Relationship

What’s the relationship between pot and opioids? According to a May article in the Poughkeepsie Journal in New York, part of the USA Today Network, smoking marijuana has the ability to decrease the use of opioids. Specifically, some states that allow the use of medical marijuana and recreational pot have seen declines in opioid prescribing. Medicaid patients are getting fewer prescriptions filled, and in the states where recreational pot is legal, the declines are even greater. The implication, of course, is that if you smoke pot, you don’t need pain relief at the level that opioids provide and don’t seek it.  

The author of the report by the Rockefeller Institute of Government that cited these numbers called marijuana “a potential tool for addressing the opioid crisis.” Additional studies in this area, such as an upcoming one by the National Institute of Health, are on the horizon.

 

Marijuana and Chronic Pain

This latest one will test “whether medical marijuana reduces opioid use among adults with chronic pain, including those with HIV.”

There have also been negative reports about using marijuana for medical reasons, however, such as one in the American Journal of Psychiatry indicating that pot use “increases the risk of an opioid-use disorder.”

The Poughkeepsie Journal article raised also asked about the general harm, or potential risks, in smoking marijuana, and then attempted to answer it. For example, the National Academy of Sciences published a report in 2017 which found that for people who smoke while driving, the odds of being in a motor vehicle accident rose by 20 to 30 percent. (But you already knew about this; you read something similar in this blog about driving and smoking in a May post.)

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Marijuana and Mental Health

Heavy marijuana use also increases the risk of being diagnosed with a psychosis, and there’s a small risk of developing bipolar disorder. However, the author notes that it’s “hard to establish causality.” He asks, “Are people who smoke pot more likely to develop mental health problems or are people with mental health problems more likely to smoke pot?”

The author summed up by saying that the findings are of questionable significance because almost all risks cited are relative, and overall, the risks are quite low. We need more research, he said, and we may then find more harms. For now, he’s in the camp that points out (believes?) pot’s effects are less harmful than those associated with tobacco or alcohol.

With the legalization of medical marijuana, doctors have another option in providing pain relief besides opioids OR medical marijuana: prescribing a combination of the two. A 2015 article in Forbes reported that “using medical marijuana along with prescribed opioids does not increase the likelihood of a patient abusing alcohol or other drugs.” However, “subjects did report higher rates of alcohol and other drug use than the general population.”

 

Outpatient Addiction Treatment Center

Not many addiction counselors seem to speak publicly about their personal feelings about marijuana for treating pain and other conditions, or about recreational marijuana, for that matter. Yet I’ve heard of one counselor who told the parents of a young man addicted to heroin that he didn’t have a problem with the man smoking pot if it helped him stay off heroin. You wonder if this view is widely held among addiction professionals when a number of them say that pot is still a drug, and it’s possible to become addicted to it. For example, a noted golfer once went to rehab because he couldn’t stop smoking. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see results of a poll that questioned addiction professionals about their personal feelings? For more information contact our outpatient addiction treatment center at (866) 569-9391