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Cannabis as a Potential Tool to Manage Opioid Cravings

The opioid epidemic has cast a long, dark shadow over public health, claiming countless lives and leaving communities devastated. As if the opioid crisis weren’t challenging enough, the emergence of unregulated opioids has exacerbated the situation, leading to a drug toxicity crisis.

In Ontario, construction workers are estimated to account for 30 to 50% of all opioid-related deaths1. Workers report the physical pain of their jobs as a reason for their drug use. According to a report by Public Health Ontario, 78% of overdose deaths had an injury or pain diagnosis prior to death (mainly fractures, dislocations, strains, or sprains, as well as low back pain2.

A recent study published in the journal of Drug Policy sheds light on the potential of cannabis to manage opioid cravings in people who are using unregulated opioids3.

Unregulated Opioids and Drug Toxicity Crisis

Unregulated opioids have infiltrated the illicit drug market, resulting in a surge of overdose cases and fatalities. As these synthetic opioids flood the streets, consumers are faced with dangerous threat due to their unpredictable potency and composition. Traditional harm reduction strategies, such as naloxone distribution and supervised consumption sites, struggle to keep up with the rapidly changing landscape of unregulated drugs. This is where cannabis steps into a new role – as a potential harm reduction tool.

Exploring the Cannabis-Opioid Connection: Insights from a New Study

The study published in Drug Policy delves into the intriguing relationship between cannabis and opioid use. It suggests that cannabis might play a role in managing opioid cravings, potentially providing a safer alternative for individuals entrenched in the unregulated opioid crisis. The researchers gather data from individuals with a history of opioid use who turned to cannabis for relief from withdrawal symptoms and cravings. The findings indicate “cannabis use to manage opioid cravings was reported by 118 (57.6%) participants. In the multivariable analysis, cannabis use to manage opioid cravings was significantly associated with self-reported reductions in opioid use.”3

The Mechanisms Behind the Connection

The study proposes several potential mechanisms through which cannabis might alleviate opioid cravings. One key mechanism is the interaction between cannabinoids found in cannabis and the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in the human body. The ECS plays a crucial role in regulating various physiological processes, including mood, pain, and appetite. By modulating the ECS, cannabis could potentially disrupt the reinforcing pathways associated with opioid cravings, providing consumers with a viable coping mechanism during withdrawal.

A Step Forward, Not a Panacea

It’s essential to view cannabis as a complementary approach rather than a panacea for the complex issue of opioid addiction. While the study’s findings are promising, they should serve as a starting point for further research and discussions among policymakers and healthcare professionals.

[1] Gomes, T. et al. Changing Circumstances Surrounding Opioid-Related Deaths in Ontario During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Ontario Drug Policy Research Network / The office of the Chief Coroner of Ontario / Ontario Forensic Pathology Service / Public Health Ontario. May 2021.
[2] Public Health Ontario. (2022). Construction workers disproportionately impacted by opioid-related deaths, report find. Retrieved from
[3] Reddon, H., Lake, S., María Eugenia Socías, Hayashi, K., DeBeck, K., Walsh, Z., & Milloy, M-J. (2023). Cannabis use to manage opioid cravings among people who use unregulated opioids during a drug toxicity crisis. International Journal of Drug Policy, 119, 104113–104113.

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