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How to Use Cannabis to Reduce Opioid Dependence

June 6, 2018
The overuse and misuse of opioid medications is major public health problem for which we don’t currently have an effective solution. Nearly 2.5 million Americans struggle with opioid addiction and over 100 people die every day from opioid overdose. Though controversial, more and more evidence is showing that medical cannabis could be a lifesaving component of a strategy to solve to this epidemic.

I recently had the opportunity to work with Sanjay Gupta on the fourth installment of his groundbreaking series on CNN, Weed 4: Pot vs. Pills, which aired last month, helping to explain how cannabis can be a solution to this epidemic.

How Cannabis Reduces Opioid Dependence

Thousands of people have used cannabis to help them reduce and replace opioid medications, as demonstrated in numerous recent scientific papers and strongly supported by animal research.

Like the reports in the scientific literature, I’ve seen the same positive results firsthand in my medical practices. From a survey of our patients in 2016, of the 542 opioid users who added cannabis:

  • 39% were able to completely stop opioid use
  • 39% used cannabis to reduce their opioid dosage
  • Adding cannabis reduced pain by more than 40% in nearly half the patients and improved function in 80%
  • In 87% of patients, it improved quality of life

Cannabis alone isn’t enough to completely solve this epidemic, but we know it can help replace the opioids, improve their safety, and increase adherence to addiction treatment programs.


Cannabis as an Opioid Exit: 5 Real-Life Stories

A Guide to Reducing Opioid Use With Cannabis

It’s essential that everyone who is concerned with this problem learn about the potential solution that’s right within reach, so we can make this life-saving treatment available for those dependent on opioids. For this reason, I have created guidelines based on my experience treating chronic pain with cannabis in 8 years of clinical practice, conferring with my colleagues, and closely following the scientific literature. These guidelines apply to patients from any walk of life, including those with chronic pain, PTSD, addiction, non-medical use of opioids, etc.

Read the Full Guide Here

In How to Use Cannabis to Reduce and Replace Opioid Medications, you’ll find the advantages of adding cannabis, complete with scientific references and specific dosing strategies for successfully relieving the symptoms of opioid withdrawal and enhancing the safety and medical benefits of opioids.

The guide includes links to several of my free online cannabis education programs for both patients new to cannabis and experienced cannabis consumers, and other programs that can help improve your likelihood of successfully using cannabis to reduce and replace opioid medications.


America’s Opioid Crisis: Can High-CBD Cannabis Combat Pain and Reduce Addiction Rates?

This guide is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for diagnostic or treatment purposes. It is not intended to be patient education, does not create any patient-physician relationship, and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment. I strongly suggest that patients:

  1. Discuss the intention to use cannabis to reduce and replace opioids with the prescribing health care provider and collaborate to achieve your goals.
  2. Work with an experienced cannabis clinician who can monitor and provide feedback on the use of cannabis.

Find Dispensaries & Doctors

Those who are most successful in using cannabis to replace opioid drugs always use a combination of pharmacologic and behavioral interventions. No medication is powerful enough to accomplish this goal on its own. By prioritizing and organizing the proper resources for sleep, exercise, counseling, support groups, and social support, you can ensure your success.

If you decide to follow this path of treatment to reduce or replace medications, I want to learn from your experiences. Please share them with me here.

Lead image: RobinOlimb, Pingebat/iStock

Dr. Dustin Sulak's Bio Image

Dr. Dustin Sulak

Dustin Sulak, DO, is the founder of Integr8 Health, a medical practice in Maine that follows over 8,000 patients using medical cannabis;, a medical cannabis patient education resource; and Cannabis Expertise, a continuing medical education curriculum. Recognized as a leading clinician in the application of medical cannabis, Dr. Sulak is committed to providing education to clinicians and patients on the use of medical cannabis.

View Dr. Dustin Sulak's articles

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  • Badams63 Adams

    I am a 57 yr old male , I have had 5 major back surgeries, and have been taking iPods for 27 years. I’m afraid that the pills are destroying me, physically and emotionally, I want soooo badly to either get completely off the pain meds, oxycontin and hydrocodone. But I have no idea where to start or if it will even work. I don’t k,ow who to talk to, I don’t what to say, I don’t know how to even begin. If ANYONE could please help me, advise me, guide me in the right direction, if be so greatful. I don’t want to die, and feel that’s exactly what’s happening. PLEASE, I BEG OF YOU, PLEASE HELP ME.

    • David R

      First, you have to realize that you are addicted to these medications. I say that with no negative connotations toward you as most people associate being addicted as bad moral character, weak, bad person,etc,etc which is absolutely not true. You will need professional help if you want to really beat this. It’s not going to be some taper down strategy from the med you can use off of the internet. If you have been on them that amount of time, then you know they become ineffective as tolerance develops but your body tells you to keep the med coming. Now you are stuck with the addiction which doesn’t even offer much help for pain.

      IMHO, you should seek out a professional medical Dr with training in Addiction medicine. Along with addressing the physical problem, they should set you up with a counselor. Your brain gets screwy when you’ve been on the stuff a long time and dealing with the mental aspect is the biggest thing. You’ll find that you don’t have as much pain as you thought you did. I remember acknowledging to myself that I was physically addicted but turned a blind eye to the psychological aspects. After this amount of time, you cannot free yourself from the physical part without dealing with the psychology of addiction-which is a disease that you don’t know you have until you start taking the stuff and realize you want/need more to control your pain. Simply, our brains are actually wired differently so we react differently to the drug. We all know people that are given a med such as those and just don’t want anymore-disliking the feeling. Soon you just don’t want withdrawal effects, the original pain becomes secondary, so the game begins. The brain gets trained that certain stimuli require more pain meds when taking opiods-even though you probably don’t. You’ll see this once you are off of it. We are about the same age and I’ve been fighting back issues for 30 years. I know Exactly what you are feeling. I know that panicky, hopeless feeling. You are not alone.

      So my advice is either-start by seeking out a medical professional trained in addiction medicine-the family Doc, though well intentioned, ain’t gonna cut it or go to a treatment center which should incorporate treating both aspects. Physically, it’s not like those God awful heroin withdrawal scenes Hollywood dishes out. The challenge is dealing with all the emotions and feelings you’ve squashed with the meds for so long.
      I hope this helps a little. I know it seems like a daunting task and I won’t minimize that at all. However, as you are guided on how to manage various issues and use support groups to bolster your resolve, you’ll find life can be joyful again so hang in there and good luck!