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Am J Addict. 2015 Jun;24(4):323-8. doi: 10.1111/ajad.12183. Epub 2015 Apr 6.

No evidence for reduction of opioid-withdrawal symptoms by cannabis smoking during a methadone dose taper.

Author information

1
Treatment Section, Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics Branch, Intramural Research Branch of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Baltimore, Maryland.

Abstract

BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES:

To support medication development with cannabinoids, smoked cannabis has been said to alleviate symptoms of opioid withdrawal. We evaluated that hypothesis.

METHODS:

We analyzed data from the methadone-taper phase of a clinical trial we had conducted. Participants were 116 outpatient heroin and cocaine users (of whom 46 were also cannabis users) who stayed for the 10-week taper. Main outcome measures were weekly urine screens for cannabinoids, plus every-two-week assessments of opioid-withdrawal symptoms.

RESULTS:

Opioid-withdrawal scores did not differ overall between users and nonusers of cannabis. In a lagged analysis in the 46 users, there was a slight (not statistically significant) indication that weeks of higher opiate-withdrawal symptoms preceded weeks of cannabis use (effect-size r = .20, 95% CI -.10 to .46, p = .52). Even if this finding is taken to suggest self-medication with cannabis, a lagged analysis in the other temporal direction showed no indication that cannabis use predicted lower opiate-withdrawal symptoms the next week (effect-size r = .01, 95% CI -.28 to .30, p = .69). These findings persisted in sensitivity analyses controlling for each of 17 potential confounds.

DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION:

With our findings, the clinical evidence for smoked cannabis as a reducer of opioid-withdrawal symptoms moves slightly further from "inconclusive" or "mixed" and closer to negative, at least in the context of a methadone dose taper like the one used here.

SCIENTIFIC SIGNIFICANCE:

This finding may remove one rationale for medication development using cannabinoids to treat opioid withdrawal, but leaves other rationales intact.

PMID:
25846329
PMCID:
PMC5576177
DOI:
10.1111/ajad.12183
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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