Study: Cannabis May Decrease Opioid Use in HIV Patients with Chronic Pain

By Beth Leipholtz 01/31/18

New research found that "only cannabis use was significantly associated with lower odds of prescribed opioid analgesic use" among HIV patients living with chronic pain.

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For patients who have HIV and are dealing with chronic pain, using cannabis makes them much less likely to use prescription opioids, according to new data.

The data comes from a study which will be published in the journal Substance Use & Misuse, and was conducted by researchers from the CUNY School of Medicine and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

“Chronic pain is common in the United States and prescribed opioid analgesics use for noncancer pain has increased dramatically in the past two decades, possibly accounting for the current opioid addiction epidemic,” the study read. “Co-morbid drug use in those prescribed opioid analgesics is common, but there are few data on polysubstance use patterns.”

The researchers studied the trends among HIV patients with chronic pain and the use of controlled substances, such as cigarettes, alcohol and illicit drugs. They did so through screening interviews and collecting data on the following: demographic characteristics, pain, patterns of opioid analgesic use (both prescribed and illicit), cigarette, alcohol, and illicit drug use (including cannabis, heroin, and cocaine) within the past 30 days and current treatment for drug use and HIV.

The results of the study revealed that nearly half of the sample of those with HIV and chronic pain reported using prescribed opioids. Illicit drug use was common as well, with cannabis being the most used illicit drug.

Researchers found that only cannabis significantly decreased the odds that a patient used an opioid analgesic.

“Our data suggest that new medical cannabis legislation might reduce the need for opioid analgesics for pain management, which could help to address adverse events associated with opioid analgesic use,” the researchers concluded.

Other studies have also pointed to the relationship between cannabis use and a decreased likelihood of prescription opioids abuse and overdoses. For example, a study published in the American Journal of Public Health examined the relationship between the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado and opioid-related deaths.

“We used an interrupted time-series design (2000-2015) to compare changes in level and slope of monthly opioid-related deaths before and after Colorado stores began selling recreational cannabis,” researchers stated. “Colorado's legalization of recreational cannabis sales and use resulted in a 0.7 deaths per month reduction in opioid-related deaths. This reduction represents a reversal of the upward trend in opioid-related deaths in Colorado.”

Since legalization of recreational marijuana is relatively new in the United States, more time is necessary in order to determine if there truly is a strong relationship between cannabis use and opioid misuse/overdoses, researchers say.

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.