Cannabis as a Beneficial Alternative for Frequent Opioid Users with Chronic Pain

Priyanshi Patel ’22

Figure 1. Opioid-related deaths have become more common in  North America and can be reduced by cannabis. 

The number of opioid-related deaths has continued to rise in  the United States and Canada. In regions where drug overdoses were declared a public health emergency, synthetic opioids in drug markets had caused large increases in death. Many people who use drugs lack access to adequate pain management through their healthcare system, thereby experiencing high rates of pain. More research is needed to explore potential opioid alternatives such as cannabis. Therefore, researchers from the University of British Columbia sought to examine whether the frequency of cannabis use was related to the frequency of illicit opioid use among people who use drugs and report living with chronic pain in Vancouver, Canada, an area with an ongoing opioid overdose crisis. 

Undertreated or untreated pain in populations, especially marginalized populations, can promote high-risk substance abuse because the patients will seek out opioids to manage pain. A less-examined pain management strategy involves  the use of cannabis. The cannabis supply has not been contaminated and is not known to pose a risk of fatal overdose. A longitudinal study was conducted examining the frequency of cannabis and illicit opioid use from the past 6 months, the odds of daily opioid use were lower (by about half) among those who reported daily cannabis use compared to those who did not use cannabis. The idea of cannabis as an adjunct to opioids in the management of chronic pain has earned more serious consideration among clinicians and scientists. 

Evidence from the study suggested that frequent use of cannabis could  serve as a substitute for illicit opioid use among people who use drugs and have chronic pain. The findings could  have implications for healthcare and harm reduction service providers. Cannabis could be used as a way of treating health problems or reducing substance-abuse and related harm. With further research, high-risk pain management strategies could be minimized and rather aid in the development of treatment plans. 



  1. S. Lake, et. al., Frequency of cannabis and illicit opioid use among people who use drugs and report chronic pain: A longitudinal analysis. PLOS Medicine, Public Library of Science 16, 1-16 (2019). doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1002967
  2. Image  retrieved from:

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