New Study: Marijuana Use Leads to Opiate Use Relapse in Young Adults

A new study published in the journal Emerging Trends in Drugs, Addictions, and Health examined the relationship between marijuana use among those in short-term recovery from an opiate use disorder and relapse. The study found that adolescents/young adults with opioid use disorder who used marijuana as a harm reduction strategy were not successful as their marijuana use enhanced cravings for opiates and promoted relapse.

The study followed twenty-six youths/ young adults between the ages of 14 and 22. These individuals had all used multiple drugs prior to the development of OUD, after which they exclusively used opiates. After they entered into an outpatient treatment program, most became sober for a period of time between one to six months before they relapsed by smoking marijuana. The study participants stated that marijuana use increased their desire for opioids and within one to six days they returned to opiate use.

The study author included the following comments from patients concerning their marijuana use and subsequent desire to resume opiate use:

“Marijuana use was just not enough, and it made me want to use heroin;”

“Each time I relapsed on weed; I would immediately think heroin is so much better;”

“Weed was just not enough and accelerated my need for a heroin high;”

“If I’m already getting high, I might as well get really high, because opiates are better;”

“Smoking weed was like a little tickle and started the cravings for heroin in motion.”

“This study adds to a body of data showing marijuana and opioids often go together. It further undercuts the argument that marijuana can be a form of substitute for those suffering from opioid addiction,” said Dr. Kevin Sabet, president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) and a former senior drug policy advisor to the Obama Administration. “We must not allow industry rhetoric to supersede the preponderance of data we have showing marijuana can potentially exacerbate the addiction crisis our country is suffering.”