Can Medical Marijuana Be Used To Fight Opioid Addiction? Research & Potential Drawbacks

Learn about some of the potential benefits and drawbacks of using medically prescribed marijuana for the treatment of opioid use disorder.

Medical Marijuana And Opioid Use Disorder

With the ongoing opioid crisis and increasing support for the legalization of cannabis occurring throughout the U.S., some researchers are studying the use of marijuana to help treat opioid addiction. 

There are proponents for and against this addiction treatment approach, but without U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval, it remains a controversial topic.  

Marijuana use, while not considered nearly as dangerous as opioid drug abuse, poses some drawbacks both to adults and adolescents. 

How Medical Cannabis May Help In The Battle Against Opioid Addiction

Recent studies published by medical journals point to a potential benefit of using marijuana for opioid addiction. 

One of the studies focused on people who had previously taken opioid drugs for bodily pain. The majority of participants (79%) reported cessation of pain medication following the use of medical cannabis. 

Another study showed that cannabis use was not associated with more or less opioid use during treatment, and further examination of marijuana would be required to make a better assessment of its potential.

Benefits Of Using Cannabis Instead Of Opioids For Pain Management

Currently, 37 states have legalized medical marijuana. Many of these states have designated opioid use disorder as a qualifying condition for cannabis use. 

Some cannabis shop owners have reported to ABC News that patrons on prescription opioids are interested in taking marijuana instead due to the bodily harm caused by long-term opioid use. 

While anecdotal evidence is not enough to sway legislators on the potential benefits of using marijuana to treat opioid addiction, many politicians are open to trying this approach once the FDA approves it. 

Marijuana is perceived as a safer substance than opioids due to its comparatively benign side effects and the lack of potential for getting physically addicted. 

Potential Drawbacks Of Using Marijuana For Opioid Use Disorder Treatment

Most researchers agree that more studies must be done to draw definitive conclusions about the benefits and drawbacks of using marijuana for opioid use disorder treatment. 

Below are some of the potential downsides of prescribing cannabis to people battling opioid addiction. 

Not Enough Rigorous Research To Show A Benefit

Without rigorous research to show a medical benefit, marijuana will never be considered a reputable treatment for opioid use disorder. 

If more studies begin to show a marked reduction in prescription opioid abuse when cannabis is used as a substitute, the FDA may be able to make this option available to millions of Americans.  

Chance Of Becoming Psychologically Dependent On Marijuana Use

Using marijuana is not without its own risks, including psychological addiction. 

Data cited by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) suggests that somewhere between 10% and 30% of people who use marijuana regularly may have some degree of marijuana use disorder. 

People who begin using cannabis before the age of 18 are up to seven times more likely to develop a marijuana use disorder than adults. 

Risks To Adolescent Brain Development

The effects of marijuana abuse on adolescent brain development are well-documented. 

Cannabis has been shown to cause permanent IQ loss of as much as eight points in people who start using it at a young age. 

Some studies have also linked marijuana use to depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and psychotic episodes. 

Over the decades, the amount of the psychoactive substance THC in marijuana has increased substantially. The higher the THC amount, the stronger the effects on the brain in adolescent people using it. 

Symptoms Of Opioid Addiction

If you or a loved one are currently using prescription opioids recreationally or for pain management purposes, you may be wondering about the symptoms of addiction

Signs and symptoms of opioid addiction include:

  • loss of control over how much opioid medication you use
  • craving opioids, or experiencing a preoccupation with using them
  • continued use despite negative consequences in relationships or daily functioning

Opioid addiction is serious and potentially life-threatening. If you think you or someone you know may be addicted, it’s recommended that you seek substance abuse treatment immediately. 

Currently Recommended Treatment Options For Opioid Drug Addiction

While marijuana may someday be part of a comprehensive treatment plan for some people facing opioid addiction, there are an array of other effective treatment services as well. 

Treatment options for opioid abuse may include:

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Reach out to for more useful information about addiction treatment programs. 

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