Skip to main content

German Opioid Patients Report Using Cannabis In Place Of Other Drugs

cannabis plant

Historically the cannabis plant was portrayed as a ‘gateway drug’ by cannabis opponents and many mainstream media outlets. It was a reefer madness talking point that was perpetuated in films and other works going back as far as the 1930s.

However, a growing body of scientific evidence is proving that the ‘gateway drug’ talking point is actually just false, unfounded prohibitionist rhetoric. Many public health advocates and researchers have found that the use of many other substances, including the misuse of household items and pharmaceutical drugs, often predates cannabis use in society.

Researchers in Germany recently conducted a study examining cannabis use in replacement of other substances, and the results of the study are promising, especially when considering how much more harmful many substances are compared to cannabis. Below is more information about the German study via a news release from NORML:

Mannheim, Germany: Nearly sixty percent of people undergoing opioid maintenance treatment (OMT) use cannabis to reduce their cravings for other drugs, including heroin, according to survey data published in the journal European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience.

German investigators assessed cannabis use trends in 118 subjects enrolled in OMT. Fifty-seven percent of respondents acknowledged consuming herbal cannabis, despite its use being a violation of the program’s rules.

Nearly half (45 percent) of cannabis consumers said that they used it “to reduce cravings for heroin,” and 24 percent acknowledged doing so to reduce cravings for cocaine. Respondents also reported using cannabis as a substitute for alcohol, benzodiazepines, and other controlled substances.

The study’s authors concluded: “A substantial proportion of patients using cannabis in our sample reported beneficial effects of cannabis use on craving for and use of other drugs, in many cases arguably more harmful substances. … [These results question whether] restricting cannabis use in general really promotes health in OMT patients. … Overall, our results suggest that cannabis should be considered as a strategy for harm reduction in OMT with the goal to reduce use of more dangerous drugs.”

The results of a 2021 study concluded that those in treatment for opioid use disorder who used cannabis were less likely to suffer from a non-fatal opioid overdose than were non-cannabis consumers. Other studies have reported that cannabis use is associated with greater opioid treatment retention rates and that it may mitigate opioid-related cravings among dependent subjects.

Full text of the study, “Does cannabis use substitute for opioids? A preliminary exploratory survey in opioid maintenance patients,” appears in the European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical NeuroscienceAdditional information is available from the NORML Fact Sheet, ‘Relationship Between Marijuana and Opioids.