Opioid Use Disorder and Cannabis

by Sep 29, 2020Education

Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) is a substance use disorder relating to the use of an opioid. Signs of the disorder include a strong desire to use opioids, an increased tolerance to opioids, and difficulty reducing use and withdrawal symptoms associated with discontinuation.

In the late 1990’s, pharmaceutical companies reassured the medical community that patients would not become addicted to prescription opioid pain relievers, and healthcare providers began to prescribe them at greater rates. This led to widespread diversion and misuse of the medication before it became clear that that opioids were indeed highly addictive.  The US is currently amidst an opioid crisis.  In 2018, the CDC reported over 46,800 deaths as result of opioid overdoses.

When Pennsylvania became the 24th state to legalize a comprehensive medical marijuana program, Opioid Use Disorder was not originally on the list of approved conditions but was quickly added once the program got up and running.  Medical cannabis, dosed at varying levels of THC and/or THC/CBD combinations, has been found to be beneficial in treating multiple symptoms of opioid use disorder including generalized pain, muscle cramps, anxiety, nausea, vomiting and insomnia.

In recent years, the legalization of medical marijuana across the country has opened possibilities for a safer alternative to pain relief.  In states where cannabis is legal, opioid use has been shown to decrease. In 2018, JAMA published a study that showed a 14.4% reduction in opioid use with Medicare patients who lived in a state with a cannabis dispensary. Although there is still much to explore and learn in the medical cannabis industry, there is certainly potential as a treatment option with little to no risk of dependency or overdose.


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