The pharmaceutical that is known as Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid pain reliever that has long been associated with misuse, addiction as well as overdose. However, research has found that the fentanyl overdoses and deaths are largely due to the synthetic versions available on the illicit market. Finding measures to reduce addiction and assist with reducing risks of overdose is important to ensure that the mortality rates are reduced.
What Exactly is Fentanyl?
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (the NIH), explains fentanyl as “a powerful synthetic opioid that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent”. Just like morphine, this prescription drug is used to treat severe pain and is sometimes administered to individuals who have built up a tolerance to opioids- since fentanyl is stronger. Fentanyl is sold under the brand names such as Actiq®, Duragesic®, and Sublimaze®.
Fentanyl is supposed to be used by patients who have been prescribed them by a doctor. It can be administered through an injection, patch, or as a lozenge. The NIH further explains that, since doctors do not freely prescribe fentanyl, the illegal market has taken to making synthetic fentanyl in labs. The synthetic fentanyl is sold as a powder, dropped onto blotter paper, put in eye drops, and even nasal sprays as well as being sold as pills that look like other prescription opioids.
Similar to other opiate-based drugs, Fentanyl interacts with the body by binding to the opioid receptors located in the areas of the brain which control pain and emotions. The brain adapts to the drug, just like it would with those other opiate-based drugs, which means that the brain becomes less receptive to the drug, thus the need for a higher dose to attain the same effects. This creates a situation that is ripe for dependency and drug abuse, which is why Fentanyl is widely considered a high-risk medication. Fentanyl’s potency is the main driver of its notoriety.
Research Says Cannabis Helps Reduce Risks of Fentanyl Exposure and Overdose
A recent study found that cannabis use “is associated with reduced risk of exposure to fentanyl” as well as that “fentanyl was detected in a majority of participants with lower prevalence among individuals with urine drug tests positive for tetrahydrocannabinol”. The study had 819 participants and concluded by stating that “cannabis use was independently associated with reduced likelihood of being recently exposed to fentanyl”. The University of British Columbia, an affiliate of the study, also published a corresponding article that further explains the findings. It was found that 53% of the 819 participants were “intentionally or inadequately using fentanyl, despite being on opioid agonist treatments” such as methadone. The opioid agonist treatments (OATs) are aimed at assisting individuals with eliminating their use of unregulated opioids however, the findings of the study suggest that the individuals may be supplementing their treatments with unregulated drugs, which then puts them at an increased risk of overdose. A clinician-scientist at the BC Centre on Substance Use (BCCSU) and the lead author on the study, Dr. Eugenia Socías stated that,
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“These new findings suggest that cannabis could have a stabilizing impact for many patients on treatment, while also reducing the risk of overdose… With overdoses continuing to rise across the country, these findings highlight the urgent need for clinical research to evaluate the therapeutic potential of cannabinoids as adjunctive treatment to OAT to address the escalating opioid overdose epidemic”.
The significance of these research findings is that it has the potential ability to assist with the retention of OAT. The University of British Columbia explains that “previous research from the BCCSU found that individuals initiating OAT who reported using cannabis on a daily basis were approximately 21 percent more likely to be retained in treatment at six months than non-cannabis users”.
Fortunately, these results will have the opportunity to be confirmed through additional research as funding was recently secured for a Vancouver-based study evaluating the feasibility and safety of an adjunct therapy to OAT. The co-author, Dr. M-J Milloy, stated that “scientists are only just beginning to understand the role cannabis might play in supporting people’s wellbeing, particularly those who use other substances”.
Thanks to the work of the BC Centre on Substance Use and the University of British Columbia, individuals who find themselves trapped under the addiction of opioids now have additional reasons for consuming cannabis to reduce their additions, to reduce risks of overdose, and to improve their opioid agonist treatments.
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