Study: Marijuana use may trigger opiate relapse
Young adults who smoked marijuana with hopes of avoiding relapse into opiate use not only were unsuccessful but found that the drug exacerbated their cravings for opiates, such as heroin and fentanyl, according to a recent report published in Emerging Trends in Drugs, Addictions and Health by researchers at Emory University.
The report’s findings may inform strategies employers, parents and other caregivers develop for managing their relationships with those who have opiate addiction, also known as Opiate Use Disorder (OUD). Efforts to prevent a relapse to marijuana use — including frequent drug testing — could be helpful to people in recovery from OUD.
The Emory report is also part of a “very mixed picture” of the role cannabis use might play in the treatment OUD. Proponents of marijuana legalization often claim cannabis use is a significant answer to the United States’ opiate epidemic, a major driver of the more than 105,000 drug overdose deaths nationwide between October 2020 and October 2021. However, there is little to support that claim. To date, there have been no prospective clinical trials of cannabis or cannabinoids used for the treatment of OUD — so cannabis use “should not be portrayed as an evidence-based treatment” for the potentially deadly illness, researchers wrote in a 2021 edition of the Journal of Addiction Medicine.
Emory researchers conducted interviews with 26 adolescents ranging in age from 14 to 22 with OUD who had tried to smoke marijuana as a harm-reduction substitute for using opiates. The researchers explored several factors, including:
“Smoked marijuana appeared to enhance cravings and urges for opiates and promoted relapse to opiate use,” the Emory researchers noted, adding that all the study’s subjects returned to opiate use within a range of one day to six weeks after relapsing with marijuana.
Among the “typical” comments researchers recorded from study subjects:
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