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Study: Marijuana Improves Outcomes In Opioid-Dependent Subjects Undergoing Treatment


pre 98 bubba marijuana strainBy Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director

Cannabis use is associated with improved outcomes in opioid-dependent subjects undergoing outpatient treatment, according to data published online ahead of print in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

Researchers at Columbia University assessed the use of cannabinoids versus placebo in opioid-dependent subjects undergoing in-patient detoxification and outpatient treatment with naltrexone, an opiate receptor antagonist. Investigators reported that the administration of oral THC (dronabinol) during the detoxification process lowered the severity of subjects’ withdrawal symptoms compared to placebo, but that these effects did not persist over the entire course of treatment. By contrast, patients who consumed herbal cannabis during the outpatient treatment phase were more readily able to sleep, were less anxious, and were more likely to complete their treatment as compared to those subjects who did not.

“One of the interesting study findings was the observed beneficial effect of marijuana smoking on treatment retention,” authors concluded. “Participants who smoked marijuana had less difficulty with sleep and anxiety and were more likely to remain in treatment as compared to those who were not using marijuana, regardless of whether they were taking dronabinol or placebo.”

The findings replicate those of two prior studies, one from 2001 and another from 2009, reporting greater treatment adherence among subjects who consumed cannabis intermittently during outpatient therapy.

Population data from states where medicinal cannabis is permitted report lower rates of opioid-abuse and mortality as compared to those states where the plant is prohibited. Clinical data and case reports also indicate that the adjunctive use of cannabis may wean patients from opiates while successfully managing their pain. Survey data of state qualified medical cannabis patients demonstrates that subjects with access to the plant often substitute it for opioids because they perceive it to possess fewer adverse side effects.

Overdose deaths involving opioids have increased dramatically in recent years. While fewer than 4,100 opiate-induced fatalities were reported for the year 1999, by 2010 this figure rose to over 16,600 according to an analysis by the US Centers for Disease Control.

An abstract of the study, “The effects of dronabinol during detoxification and the initiation of treatment with extended release naltrexone,” appears online here.

Source: NORML - make a donation


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Johnny Green


  1. Thanks for joining the effort. If enough people call it will be impossible for him not to notice how many people care and how much they care and then it will become impossible for him to not take action.
    Its a moral outrage that Americans, including American Children, are suffering and dying — needlessly — because of bad laws passed on the basis of a set of “Big Lies”
    In the immortal words of Spencer Tracy — as Clarence Darrow — in “Inherit The Wind”
    “There is no good way to enforce a bad law!”
    From the bottom of my heart — Thank You!
    Everyone who calls and gets their friends to do the same is helping save American lives.

  2. saynotohypocrisy on

    Pay attention drug czar so that you don’t sound like such an ignorant fool the next time you talk about medicinal marijuana.

  3. saynotohypocrisy on

    I started calling them last week. It’s worth a try. They’re only open 5 days, during business hours. 202 456 1111.
    He needs to explain why he is opposed, so that his reasons can be debated, and refuted. I hope his people understand that cannabis doesn’t have to be smoked, and that there is no evidence that smoking marijuana causes cancer or COPD.

  4. Plus Rehab officials and physicians are catered to by the pharmacological industry. Why refuse drug sales entertainment and payola? Just like supermarket managers only provide shelf space for paying merchandisers.

  5. Although one poster in a news article (Australia?) claimed smoking JWH-018 helped his medical conditions and was continuing the practice. As you know that compound was made illegal in the U.S.A. in the last couple years. Now people are smoking incense and unknown compounds. Great move DEA. Isn’t Cannabis/Hemp prohibition a wonderful thing? :-p

  6. Good for you. Try to get your story into the press. Work with LEAP and NORML to get your story out. Consider forming a group of people similar to your self to carry the message to the press.

  7. saynotohypocrisy on

    That sounds encouraging. Do you see it having potential for use directly in psychotherapy with recovering addicts, or in general? That sounds like, if I understand correctly, the way traditional Rastafarians use weed, as an aid to emotional truth telling in something similar to group therapy.

  8. Cannabis’s long half life makes it ideal for drug substitution therapy, and it shows enormous promise in helping addicts an alcoholics recover for their addiction, without being addictive itself, because of the way it interacts with memory as well as its long half life, and its safe and easy for users to titrate.

  9. saynotohypocrisy on

    Even if a person does trade an alcohol addiction in for a cannabis addiction, they are still far better off, especially for people in AA, who are only there because they have a serious problem that they admit is out of control. There are many ways of hurting yourself or others beyond repair because of alcohol, they are all rare or non-existent with cannabis. I don’t expect AA groups and leaders to embrace cannabis, but they NEED to understand that the dangers of alcohol, to users and innocent alike, are far graver than for cannabis, and their teachings need to reflect that, and they also need to be crystal clear that the physical health risks from cannabis are insignificant compared to tobacco.

  10. A question for everyone who posts here —
    How often do you call the white house comment line?
    Do you enlist your friends to do the same?
    Do you ask them to ask their friends to do the same and to pass the idea on?
    We need all the help we can get if we want to get Marijuana removed from Schedule 1.
    Do you call the comment line?
    If not, why not?

  11. So, not only did this study find smoked marijuana to be effective, but it also found Marinol (dronabinol – synthetic 100% THC) to be far less effective. Just like the studies released a few months ago that found – out of 79 studies which involved only 2 smoked marijuana samples with the rest being Marinol, Sativex, and other pharma-cannabis – only 2 studies that showed significant effectiveness, and they both found the smoked marijuana to be more effective than the fake stuff.

  12. Pot helped me get off alcohol as well as oxycontin. In AA they still frown on pot however as I pointed out to my sponsor often the choice is opiods, pot, or suicide, great choices for a great health care system but the pot does work and the current fear mongering by so called experts claiming we are trading one addiction for another is just plain wrong and based on nothing but our old drug war propaganda.

  13. Marijuana is unique for a number of reasons, not the least of which is its incredibly wide therapeutic index and because of that, the ability of users of it in medical setting to safely self-titrate.
    This is key to its use for the control of Cancer pain, the management of other Cancer symptoms, and management of the side effects of other Cancer therapies.

  14. This is a well known effect. Two of the most famous people to use Marijuana to help them stop using hard drugs were Ray Charles and Whoopi Goldberg.
    Wherever Marijuana is substituted for Alcohol or Hard Drugs, Morbidity and Mortality decrease.
    Marijuana is truly remarkable.
    The more we in Science and Medicine learn about Marijuana as a Medicine, the more impressed we become about its incredibly wide range of uses as well as its incredible safety profile.

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