Patients who take prescription opioids for pain management are at a higher risk of developing substance use disorder (SUD) and mental health problems such as anxiety and depression if they also use cannabis, revealed a 2019 study from the University of Houston.
Lead author Andrew Rogers, a doctoral student in clinical psychology at the University of Houston Anxiety and Health Research Laboratory and its Substance Use Treatment Clinic, focused on the link between long-lasting pain, prescription opioids, and the underlying mental health problems such as anxiety and emotion regulation. This study was the first of its kind as it focused on the effects of mixing cannabis with prescription opioids.
People start using cannabis for its pain-relieving properties
The study included 450 adults across the country who had experienced severe to moderate pain for three months or more. Some of these people started using cannabis for its pain-relieving properties along with their opioid prescriptions. While observing the participants, Rogers found that along with higher levels of depression and anxiety, the risk of nicotine, cocaine, alcohol, and substance abuse also increased among those who used cannabis along with prescription opioids as compared to those who used only opioids. Further, none of the participants reported any increased improvement in pain relief.
Speaking about the study and its findings, Rogers said that the study highlighted the need for a more wide-ranging diagnosis and treatment of chronic pain as a large number of people suffering from chronic pain are at risk of polysubstance abuse. He also said that the main reason to conduct this study was to find out if cannabis was a safer option for pain management as compared to opioids.
Cannabis and opioids
Due to legalization in several states of the country, cannabis has been in news for quite some time now. Legalized for medical use in 34 states and the District of Columbia, in some form or other, cannabis is used for chronic pain management by many people.
Opioids are also used for severe pain management. However, it is associated with more negative effects and health problems than positive results. Prescription opioids are still being used and are in fact one of the most widely prescribed classes of medicines for pain management. Opioids are highly addictive in nature and contribute to the maximum number of deaths due to drug overdoses. The U.S. is currently suffering from the worst drug crisis in its history which is attributed primarily to opioids.
Sometimes, an individual might develop a dependence on more than one illicit drug or mix alcohol with prescription drugs. This is known as polysubstance dependency. In addition to various other complications, an addiction to drugs may also lead to the development of mental health disorders, which may exacerbate substance use. This co-existence of substance use and mental disorders is known as dual-diagnosis or co-occurring disorders. According to the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) report, around 8.5 million American adults above the age of 18 years suffered from mental health issues along with a substance use disorder in the past year.
If you or your loved one is battling with dual-diagnosis it is imperative to seek professional help at the earliest.