Cannabis use may lower use of illicit opioids

Researchers in British Columbia have released a study that concludes daily cannabis use may be a beneficial, and less dangerous alternative than illicit opioids.

The study by researchers at the BC Centre on Substance Use and University of British Columbia was published on Tuesday, Nov. 19, in a special issue of the online medical journal PLOS Medicine on substance dependence.

Their conclusions were based on interviews with over 1,100 people at highest risk of opioid overdose in Vancouver between 2014 and 2017 who reported substance use and major or chronic pain. Researchers found that daily cannabis use was associated with significantly lower odds of daily use of illicit opioids, suggesting that people are replacing opioids with cannabis to manage pain.

“These findings, in combination with past research, again demonstrate that people are using cannabis to help manage many different conditions, including pain,” said Dr. M-J Milloy, a research scientist at BCCSU and a professor of cannabis science at UBC. “And in some cases, they’re using cannabis in place of opioids.”

“The results suggest that increasing access to cannabis for therapeutic purposes could help curb overdose risk associated with illicit opioid use,” he said.

Results from a statistical model showed that people using cannabis every day had nearly 50 percent lower odds of using illicit opioids every day compared to those not using cannabis, while people who reported occasional use of cannabis were neither more or less likely than non-users to use illicit opioids on a daily basis.


Milloy is currently planning controlled trials to evaluate whether cannabis could serve as a substitute for opioid use.